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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Editorial: Stephen Harper was right to meet the Dalai Lama

October 31, 2007

National Post
October 30, 2007

When it comes to Western governments' contacts with the Dalai Lama, China talks loudly, but carries a little stick. Every time a president or prime minister meets
with the exiled spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet — as Prime Minister Stephen Harper did yesterday — the Chinese threaten severe repercussions, typically the
fraying of the trade arrangements Western corporations covet so much because of China's 1.3 billion consumers. But critics who, on this basis, warn against official
meetings with the Dalai Lama need to remember one thing: China needs bilateral trade every bit as much as the West, perhaps more so. That's why Beijing seldom
follows up on its tough talk with anything more than a cancelled meeting or sharply worded letter.

Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush awarded the Buddhist monk — who has lived in exile for 48 years — the Congressional Gold Medal, America's
highest civilian honour. China protested in advance, saying on the eve of the lama's visit to the White House that it was "strongly dissatisfied," and that if Washington
did not cancel its plans there would be "an extremely serious impact." Yet, so far, all the Chinese have done is withdraw from a U.S.-led diplomatic summit
discussing what to do about Iran's nuclear program. Similarly, after the Chinese protested loudly about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's September meeting, the
only tangible evidence of their displeasure was the cancellation of an annual German-Chinese meeting on human rights. Australia claims to have seen no
consequences at all since Prime Minister John Howard's meeting with the Dalai Lama during the summer.

China doesn't follow up on its tough talk because it can't. The jobs produced by China's decade-long economic boom keep the population content, and thus less
likely to agitate for political reform. Until the threat of the Dalai Lama whipping up an anti-China revolt in Tibet outweighs China's fear of a broad upheaval by hungry
farmers and unemployed factory workers, Western leaders' contacts with him will evoke little more than Chinese bluster.

Mr. Harper's meeting with the Dalai Lama is mostly a symbolic gesture, of course. But such symbols are important. Since China's invasion of Tibet in 1950, Beijing
has tended to ease its iron grip only at times when the West is expressing its sympathy with Tibetans. By contrast, the cruel crackdowns of 1959 and 1987-1988 —
in which tens of thousands were slaughtered by People's Liberation Army troops — were preceded by Western countries agreeing to accept China's controversial
claim that Tibet is traditionally part of China.

Mr. Harper was right to meet with the Dalai Lama officially and in front of the media — the first PM to do so. (Paul Martin met with the Dalai Lama behind closed
doors in the residence of Ottawa's Catholic archbishop, as if the meeting were somehow shameful. To our mind, this is worse than not meeting the man at all.) Even
if there were a reasonable expectation of trade sanctions by China, giving an audience to this symbol of Tibet's suppressed identity was the morally correct thing to
do.

On this score, one may ask: If Ottawa is morally obliged to take a principled stand against Washington whenever U.S. policy deviates from Canada's — as
Canadian nationalists insist — then why should the same not be true of China, whose human-rights record is far worse than Washington's? A bizarre article by a
former diplomat in Sunday's Toronto Star accused Mr. Harper of meeting the Dalai Lama on the basis of "ideologically driven considerations." If a commitment to
human rights counts as an "ideologically driven consideration," then Mr. Harper should proudly plead guilty to the charge.

Recently, Chinese officials in Tibet caught four 15-year-old boys scribbling graffiti on the walls of public buildings calling for the Dalai Lama to return. International
human rights organizations say the boys have been beaten with cables and tortured with cattle prods. If Mr. Harper hadn't met with the Dalai Lama, Canada would
have been giving tacit approval to such Chinese tactics. Good on our Prime Minister for injecting a little bit more principle into our international relations.

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