April 13, 2004
"On this we are very clear-cut -- that we are opposed to any foreign government officials to meet with him. Because, you know, the Dalai Lama is neither a political figure nor a religious figure. He's just somebody involved with separating China," said a senior official with the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.
Asked whether a Martin meeting would have a negative impact on Canada's efforts to bolster trade relations with the world's fastest-growing economy, the Chinese official responded: "I just now said our position -- very clearly. So you can see, the answer is there. Right? We are opposed to any official contacts between him [and] any foreign government official."
The Chinese embassy later followed up the interview with a faxed statement that reiterated China's desire that the Prime Minister, or any government officials, not meet with the Dalai Lama "in any capacity and in any form, so as not to upset or damage the bilateral relations" between China and Canada.
The statement urges the government to forbid the Dalai Lama from entering Canada.
Mr. Martin has yet to decide whether he will meet the Dalai Lama later this month when the exiled Tibetan monk and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner spends three days in Ottawa as part of a two-week Canadian tour.
The Canada Tibet Committee is lobbying hard for Mr. Martin to meet the Dalai Lama, claiming the support of a majority of 159 MPs, including seven Martin Cabinet ministers.
Canada and China already do a booming $20-billion in annual trade but both governments want to double that figure by 2010. Canada is eager to narrow its $12-billion trade deficit with China and is especially keen to sell another $4-billion worth of CANDU nuclear reactors to China.
Previous prime ministers Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney did not meet the Dalai Lama on previous visits. U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have granted him audiences, but not as a political leader.
Canada has a policy that does not allow for an independent Taiwan or more freedom for Tibet, which China invaded in 1959, forcing the then child Dalai Lama into exile in India.
In his 10 years in power, Mr. Chretien was an unabashed China booster who had six official visits there, including two major Team Canada trade missions.
On his last trip to China in October, Mr. Chretien was called a friend of China and given a hero's welcome with full military honours in Beijing. He returned to Beijing in January as a private citizen to promote Canadian business interests.
While Mr. Chretien has been asked to pressure China to respect human rights, he spent a scant five minutes during his last official prime ministerial visit asking about religious freedom in Tibet and Beijing's crackdown on the Falun Gong religious worshippers. The visit concluded with the two countries signing three bilateral agreements worth $18-million to Canada to help China reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Chretien's last act as prime minister was to host Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in December. Mr. Martin was also given a one-hour visit with Mr. Wen on Dec. 11, the day before he was sworn in as Prime Minister.
The China Tibet Committee -- whose higher profile members include former Liberal Cabinet minister Warren Allmand, former Trudeau advisor Tom Axworthy and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, among others -- wrote to Mr. Martin last month urging him to meet the Dalai Lama.
The committee wants Canada to be an "honest broker" in negotiations between China and Tibet.
"It offers Canada a unique opportunity to crystallize its international reputation as a peacemaking nation -- one that promotes human rights as core values, not as principles of convenience," the letter states.
But China has made it perfectly clear Canada has no business meddling in its internal affairs.
"Our position is clear: We don't need any broker," the Chinese embassy official said.
In their faxed statement, the Chinese went further.
"Tibetan affairs are the internal affairs of China that brook no foreign interference," the Chinese statement said. "The Canadian government has indicated on many occasions that it understands the sensitivity of the issue and does not recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile or support the Tibetan independence. We hope that the Canadian government will honour their commitments by refusing to allow the Dalai to visit Canada."
The Dalai Lama visits Vancouver from April 19-21, Ottawa from April 21-24 and Toronto from April 24 to May 5.