Canada - Canadian Press



Dalai Lama's visit puts Canadian officials on political tightrope


Thu Apr 8, 5:10 PM ET 




VANCOUVER (CP) - B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell will meet with him, but Prime Minister Paul Martin isn't saying how the federal government will greet the Dalai Lama, who arrives in Canada in less than 10 days.




Will Martin meet with the Nobel Prize winner, prompting a tiff with China, a major trade partner? Or will Martin simply plea a full schedule and take a pass? Or will the prime minister work out a scenario where he accidentally-on-purpose bumps into him?



Martin wasn't answering Thursday, the same day as news that China has issued a stern warning suggesting Canada's trading relationship could be jeopardized if the prime minister meets with someone the Chinese regards simply as a renegade trying to separate their country.



Martin wouldn't say what communication his government has received from China on the issue.



"They've not talked to me," Martin said Thursday while touring Quebec.



"There is an enormous amount of interest in this. But we're in the process of seeing if the logistics and the whole thing can be worked out."



Tibet was occupied by Chinese troops in 1951 and the Dalai Lama fled in 1959 after a failed uprising. He set up a Tibetan government in exile in India and from there, he has lobbied for greater Tibetan autonomy.



As the Dalai Lama's popularity has increased along with the cause of Tibetan independence, government leaders have been placed in the sticky situation of figuring out how to treat him.



The Dalai Lama will be in Canada for 19 days, visiting Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto.



A spokesman for Campbell said the premier will have lunch with the Dalai Lama, but made it clear the meeting was in the Dalai Lama's capacity as a spiritual leader, not as a politician.



That's how Tony Blair (news - web sites) handled it, said Charles Burton, a China specialist and former Canadian diplomat to Beijing.



U.S. President George W. Bush (news - web sites) has also seen him, "without making any kinds of claims about the capacity in which" they were meeting, said Burton, who teaches at Brock University.



And then-U.S. president Bill Clinton (news - web sites) dropped in on the Dalai Lama during a meeting at the White House.



"In the past, Mr. Clinton met with the Dalai Lama but it was sort of a walk-by, meaning the Dalai Lama was in the White House meeting with lower-level officials and Mr. Clinton at least made a pretence that he happened to be passing by the office and saw the Dalai Lama in there and decided to say 'Hi'. "



The Foreign Affairs Department has acknowledged the Dalai Lama's visit is politically sensitive.



"I think in terms of a calculation of Canada's national interest, it's probably perceived as not being a benefit to us to do that, in the sense it would lead to diplomatic protest by the Chinese and it's largely a symbolic matter," Burton said.



The Tibetan leader was refused an audience with Brian Mulroney when he visited Canada in 1990, although he saw then-external affairs minister Barbara McDougall when he returned three years later. The Dalai Lama hasn't been back since.






Liberal MP Sophia Leung said the Prime Minister's Office called asking for her advice on the matter.


"I suggest we should if at all possible . . . the PM could meet with Dalai Lama," said Leung, who was born in China and later lived in Taiwan.


The Canada Tibet Committee, which is organizing the Ottawa leg of the Dalai Lama's visit, said Leung is among more than 150 MPs to support asking the Canadian government to play a mediator's role in setting up talks between the exiled leader and Tibet.


Leung said that's not the same as telling the Chinese government what to do.


"I think the Canadian government could . . . be a peacemaker," she said.


The matter of whether Martin should meet the Tibetan leader is obviously sensitive, but Leung said the question of whether that meeting happens is not "a big issue" to the Chinese Canadian community.


Popular support for the Dalai Lama, whose fans include Hollywood stars and famous musicians, makes it hard for Canadian politicians to ignore him, said Arthur Sheps, who teaches religion and politics in Canada at the University of Toronto.


Tickets for his spiritual teachings were snapped up fast as any rock concert. The academic community will also honour him with honorary degrees at several universities, noted Sheps.


Ottawa has to find a way to avoid snubbing both the Tibetan leader and the Chinese government, said Sheps.


"It's more fraught with politics than many other religious visits, because he is . . . both a religious and a national leader," said Sheps.


"Many people are saying should the prime minister see the Dalai Lama. They are not just saying should he be nice to the leader of a small religious community in Canada.


"Because if that's all it was, it wouldn't be a big question. (It's) because it's a big human rights question for China."


Sheps doubts Martin will see the famous Buddhist monk, whose religious followers believe is the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama and the incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion.


"I think if there's a way in which Mr. Martin could find a way to receive the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, but not a national one, that would be a nice thing. That would be hard for him to do."


The national president of the Canada Tibet Committee said he's not looking for a photo op.


"What I'm really interested (in is) if the prime minister is going to deliver on the requests put to him by the Canadian members of parliament," said Thubten Samdup, in reference to the MPs who signed letters saying Canada should play a mediator role.


The leaders of the federal New Democrat and Conservative parties will meet him in Ottawa and a small reception is being planned for MPs who support the mediation request, said Samdup.


Emphasizing it was his group and not the Dalai Lama that requested the meeting with Martin, Samdup said the Tibetan leader is better known than Martin abroad.


The publicity wouldn't hurt the prime minister with an election coming, Samdup said.


"He needs something, especially a blessing from the Dalai Lama."


The Dalai Lama will be in Vancouver April 17-20, Ottawa April 21-24 and Toronto April 25-May 5.