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Prime Minister absent as cabinet ministers and MPs meet Dalai Lama in Vancouver

October 27, 2014

By Peter O'Neil

Vancouver Sun, October 23, 2014 - Prime Minister Stephen Harper won’t meet the Dalai Lama during his current visit to Canada.

However, one of the Conservative MPs attending a low-profile meeting with Tibet’s spiritual leader in Vancouver Friday said that decision shouldn’t be viewed as a snub.

A powerful cabinet contingent was expected at the event — Industry Minister James Moore and Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay, both of B.C., and Employment Minister Jason Kenney — and about a dozen other MPs from all parties in the House, including several from the West Coast.

Canada, like other countries, has to balance human rights concerns in Tibet with China’s view that the Dalai Lama is a separatist and terrorist.

China claims it “peacefully liberated” Tibet when it occupied the region in 1950, but rights groups and exiles accuse Beijing of brutally repressing Tibetan culture and language.

Ontario Conservative MP Bernard Trottier, chairman of Parliamentary Friends of Tibet, said Harper’s absence does not mean Canada is joining other global leaders in snubbing the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

“We (Conservative MPs in the delegation) are there with his (Harper’s) blessings, he’s well aware that we’re doing this,” Trottier told The Vancouver Sun shortly before boarding his flight to the West Coast.

“But then again it’s not a government initiative, it’s a parliamentary initiative,” he hastily added.

Stephen Lecce, spokesman for the prime minister, said Harper has met with the Dalai Lama in 2007 and 2012. Trottier noted that no other Canadian leader invited the Dalai Lama to the prime minister’s office, as Harper did in both meetings.

“While the Prime Minister has had the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama over the past years, he has no plans to meet him this week,” Lecce said.

Trottier said China’s aggressive pressuring of western governments to avoid the Dalai Lama hasn’t influenced the government’s views on how China treats Tibetans.

“Our position as parliamentarians and as a government is that they should have the right to exercise their religious freedom,” he said. “We’re not advocating independence, we’re saying there should be some form of autonomy within Tibet so their unique culture and religious freedoms can be exercised.

A 2010 study by two European academics suggests that countries that have given the Dalai Lama a high-profile reception pay the price. When a head of state or government meets the Dalai Lama, their country’s exports to China drop by at least 8.1 per cent for the next two years, concluded authors Andreas Fuchs and Nils-Hendrik Klann.

Foreign Policy magazine reported earlier this year that there has been a steep decline in the number of government leaders around the world who are willing to risk China’s wrath. In 2000 nine heads of state met privately with him, and the following there 11 did, but the total has steadily declined and there was just one in 2014, according to the magazine.

France, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Norway are among the countries that have snubbed him.

“The Dalai Lama used to be the guy everyone wanted at their party. But since China’s emergence as an economic superpower, he’s become an awkward guest to invite,” the online news service GlobalPost reported last month.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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