Dalai Lama Begins Visit

October 28th 2007

Ottawa, Canada, 28 October 2007 (By Jim Brown, The Canadian Press) - If Stephen Harper is hoping to forge a political as well as a personal friendship with the Dalai Lama this week, he may want to consider the example of what happened to George W. Bush on that score.

The Tibetan spiritual leader told an Ottawa audience Sunday he found Bush to be a likable man when he met the U.S. president last week in Washington.

"I love him, really, as a human being. Very nice man, very simple, straightforward, no formality."

When it came to politics, however, it was another story. The message he delivered to Bush was: "As far as your policies are concerned, I have some reservations."

One of the items at the top of the list was American policy in Iraq, which the Dalai Lama described as "not necessarily" badly intentioned.

The problem, in his view, was in the practical application. As so often happens, he explained Sunday, "no matter what the intentions, methods become unrealistic. So instead of solving the problem (they) increase the problem."

The comments, delivered to a crowd of more than 5,000 gathered in a local hockey arena, came as the Dalai Lama prepared to meet Harper and other dignitaries on Monday.

They also came at a time of domestic controversy over Harper's own war-fighting policies as part of the NATO military mission in Afghanistan – a Canadian troop commitment the Dalai Lama diplomatically avoided mentioning on Sunday.

He made only occasional references to the Chinese occupation of Tibet that has lasted for more than half a century, noting that he isn't campaigning now for outright Tibetan independence but merely for "meaningful autonomy" and democratic reforms under Beijing's continued rule.

Because of China's economic might, he said, "we get greater benefit" by maintaining political ties with the People's Republic.

He reiterated, as well, his devotion to non-violent principles, recalling ruefully that when Tibetans briefly resorted to political force in an uprising in the 1950s the result was "more suppression, more control, more rigidity" – and a half-million dead.

"Violence brings more violence, more suffering," he said. ``That's almost like suicide."

The Dalai Lama, now aged 72, fled Tibet with the collapse of the rebellion in 1959 and has lived in exile since then in northern India.

Harper is the latest in a growing list of western leaders – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Australian Prime Minister John Howard as well as Bush – who have played host to him in recent months.

The fact that the prime minister chose his Parliament Hill office for the meeting lends a more official and political air to the visit than has been the case with past encounters with Canadian politicians.

Three years ago, for example, when then-Liberal prime minister Paul Martin met with the Dalai Lama, he did so at the private residence of a Roman Catholic cleric.

That symbolically served to emphasize the Tibetan leader's status as a revered Buddhist man of religion – and to downplay his role as a campaigner against Chinese oppression in his homeland.

The Chinese government and its diplomats in Canada have made it clear they don't appreciate the subtle shift in protocol under Harper, who complained when he was in opposition that the Liberals paid too much attention to trade relations with Beijing and not enough to pressing the Communist regime to respect human rights.

Aside from the meeting with Harper, the Dalai Lama plans a stop at government offices in nearby Gatineau, Que., to meet with Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, another vocal critic of Chinese policy.

He will visit Governor General Michaëlle Jean at Rideau Hall later Monday, before getting together with leaders of the federal opposition parties at a downtown hotel on Tuesday.


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