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Harper ready to spurn China by meeting with Dalai Lama

September 18, 2007

The Globe and Mail
September 18, 2007

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper plans to meet the Dalai Lama next month in an official encounter on a government site that will irk Chinese officials who view the Buddhist leader as a subversive enemy, sources say.

Mr. Harper is expected to go further than former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, who met with the Dalai Lama in a non-political setting for five minutes in 2004.

The coming meeting in a federal building is in keeping with the hard line on Tibet taken by the Conservatives since coming to office last year. It is also an important event for Mr. Harper, who kept a scarf he received from
the Dalai Lama as the leader of the opposition in 2004.

The Chinese had been mounting a behind-the-scenes campaign trying to prevent any formal meeting with the Dalai Lama.

"We are against the provision of venues by foreign countries to the Dalai Lama's secessionist activities and also against foreign dignitaries meeting with him," Chinese officials told The Globe and Mail in a statement

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa argued that the Dalai Lama is "a political exile who has long been engaged in activities aimed at splitting China under the camouflage of religion. His activities, in whatever name or whatever
places, are neither a purely religious issue nor a private act."

Mr. Harper's decision to meet the Dalai Lama is expected to increase Canada-China tensions, which have been cool over the issue of human rights.

Expectations have been high among the Dalai Lama's supporters that the Canadian government will continue to push for talks for increased independence of Tibet within China.

"The government of Canada needs to send a message to the Chinese government that negotiations must be treated seriously and that there must be tangible results," said Dermod Travis, executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee.

The first Canadian prime minister to meet with the Dalai Lama was Mr. Martin, who did so in the cloistered surroundings of the official residence of the Roman Catholic Archbishop in Ottawa.

At the time, the Prime Minister's Office went to great lengths to keep the meeting low key, brief and devoid of any substantive discussion of the Dalai Lama's political struggle with the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama and supporters of a free Tibet have been winning a number of battles on the international stage in recent years, hoping to force the Chinese government to loosen its grip on the region ahead of the 2008
Olympics in Beijing.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet with the Dalai Lama at the chancellery in Berlin on the weekend. U.S. President George W. Bush signed a bill last year giving the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize a
Congressional Gold Medal, once again over Chinese objections.

The Chinese were angry last year when the Dalai Lama met in Vancouver with junior minister Jason Kenney, who greeted him on behalf of the Prime Minister.

At the time, then-immigration-minister Monte Solberg awarded the Dalai Lama honorary Canadian citizenship in front of a crowd of 12,000. The only two other honorary Canadian citizens are South Africa's Nelson Mandela and
Sweden's Raoul Wallenberg.

Mr. Solberg praised the Dalai Lama for his preaching of peace, practice of kindness and dedication to humanitarian work. "These are the values of Canadians," Mr. Solberg said.

China has made a contested claim to sovereignty over Tibet for hundreds of years, and has occupied it since 1951.

The Dalai Lama, considered the leader of Tibetan Buddhists, has lived in exile since 1959.

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