Vancouver, Canada 10 September 2006 (Christina Montgomery with a file from Ian Bailey/CanWest News Service) His Holiness Dalai Lama waves to the crowd at the Cultivating Happiness event at the GM Place Saturday afternoon.
How fine a political line can the Dalai Lama walk between keeping the world focused on China's ongoing occupation of Tibet -- and still claiming he doesn't do politics, just human happiness?
How clearly can he lay out a view of the war and human conflict that flashes nightly across TV screens -- without turning off his blissed-out fans, many of whom are in search of moments of personal peace, not advice that there's 'much hard work' ahead?
And how sincerely can he claim to have forgiven China for the ongoing misery of his countrymen -- that, in fact, he bears no hatred toward the Chinese?
Given the weekend's events, the answers are: perfectly, utterly and apparently absolutely.
Political tensions between Tibet and China run high. This year, China completed a railway line into the country that Tibetans say is aimed at continuing to flood their nation with ethnic Chinese, and at gaining affordable access to Tibet's massive mineral deposits. On Sept. 1, it opened a new airport in Nyingchi, just a 90-minute flight from Chengdu in China's Sichuan province.
This week's visit by the Tibetan leader-in-exile has clearly irritated China, one of Canada's largest trading partners.
Zhang Weidong, a minister at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, urged Ottawa not to meet the Dalai Lama privately or attend his appearances.China, already angry that a Tory backbencher tried last year to pass a bill implicitly recognizing Taiwan's sovereignty, was further angered last summer when Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government granted the Dalai Lama honourary Canadian citizenship.
Spillover of the tensions has threatened Canada's 1999 request for Approved Destination Status, which would grant access to China's booming tourist market by allowing Chinese travel agents to easily organize tours to Canada. More than 100 other countries have been granted status.
The threats don't appear to have fazed Harper, who sent Calgary MP Jason Kenney, a critic of China's human-rights policy who also serves as Harper's parliamentary secretary, to meet privately with the exiled spiritual leader this weekend.
And Citizenship and Immigration Minister Monte Solberg was sent on stage yesterday afternoon at GM Place to present the Dalai Lama a copy of the unanimous parliamentary motion making him a citizen.Kenney said the Dalai Lama 'encouraged Canada to encourage our Chinese friends to engage in meaningful dialogue on Tibet.'
'The nature of our conversation was confidential' but touched on 'issues of common interest,' Kenney said, adding that 'I can say I was charged by the prime minister to personally welcome him on behalf of the prime minister and the government.'
Asked by reporters about China's anger, the Dalai Lama deftly dismissed it. 'I'm sorry. Wherever I go, [it] creates some inconvenience. I'm sorry. I hope it's not my mistake,' he said with a trademark giggle.
Asked about China's claim that he is not promoting spiritualism but an independent Tibet, he said he wants only cultural autonomy. He told reporters he hears from those still in Tibet that they are unhappy, but repeated Thursday that his visit had nothing to do with politics.
Which might have come as a surprise to those gathered to hear him speak Friday, when his remarks to a crowd at the Orpheum Theatre turned to poverty, war in Iraq, the murder rate in suburban Washington, D.C., and hunger in Africa.
He spoke critically of Europe's legacy of imperialism and the devastating effects of colonialism.
'Europeans have a long, long history of troublemaking,' he said. As the crowd laughed but then fell silent, he went on to note that Europeans eventually decided on democracy, human rights and religious freedom.
He also had them laughing when he said that during talks to his many friends in South Africa, he reminds them that they can be 'lazy' and that they have to 'work very hard' to fix their own problems. He suggested the West can help Africa not by shipping it money, but helping it equip and educate its citizens.
During a talk about developing compassion and overcoming anger and other 'aggressive' emotions that lead to violence, the Dalai Lama counselled that compassion toward an enemy is wise: 'This may become your best friend.'
The comments echoed his earlier claims that he bears no hatred toward the Chinese people for their country's treatment of his own.
His ability to remove himself from the direct politics that surround him appear to have created a welcoming zone for local politicians.
Premier Gordon Campbell, who has shown interest in the $60-million educational centre being established in Vancouver in the Dalai Lama's name,
had a brief meeting with him Friday morning. Education Minister Shirley Bond spoke at a children's forum the same morning, and MLA Lorne Mayencourt spoke at an afternoon session with education specialists.
Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, who is keenly courting China, met with him publicly twice. And former prime minister Kim Campbell is expected to be among corporate and social leaders meeting with him in a roundtable talk today.