By Michel Comte
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama (L) places a scarf on Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the start of their meeting in Harper's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 29, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CANADA)
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday held formal talks with the Dalai Lama, becoming the first Canadian leader to ignore China's warnings not to host the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
"It was clearly an historic meeting," said Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism.
"I hope that the entire world gets the message that attacking a 72-year-old pacifist Buddhist monk who advocates nothing more than cultural autonomy for his people is counterproductive."
The two leaders met in Harper's office for about 40 minutes and had "a very full and frank exchange of views," Kenney told AFP.
They discussed human rights, Tibet's history and the plight of its people, he said.
The Dalai Lama also thanked the prime minister for making him an honorary Canadian citizen.
Kenney said the two leaders did not discuss NATO's combat mission in Afghanistan, about which the Dalai Lama had earlier expressed concern.
"It's our view that we are in Afghanistan at the invitation of the Afghan government and the United Nations with the support of the Afghan people to defend them from violence," offered Kenney.
"And, I believe, if you look at Tibetan history you'll see that self-defense is considered legitimate."
Kenney dismissed Beijing's warning that hosting the Dalai Lama would sour Sino-Canadian relations, noting that bilateral trade has risen steadily despite Harper's harsh criticisms of China's human rights record.
China claims the Nobel laureate is a dangerous figure agitating for Tibetan independence and publicly chastised US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for meeting with him this month.
In a statement to the daily Globe and Mail, the Chinese foreign ministry said it had also pressed Ottawa to turn him away, asking Canadian officials to "clearly understand the nature of the Dalai Lama's separatist activities."
Further, Beijing warned Ottawa to "not allow him to use Canadian territory for activities to split China, and not to do anything to harm Sino-Canadian relations."
For his part, the Dalai Lama said his visit was "non-political."
"My main interest or my main commitment is promotion of human value, promotion of religious harmony," he said.
"I always admire this country's multi-racial, multi-culture, multi-religions ... which are, I think, a good model to (the) rest of the world where some ethnic groups are troubled.
"I think that those concerned Chinese officials should learn more from your ministry (about) how to work for promotion of unity on the basis of mutual respect," he said of Kenney's Ministry of Heritage.
The Dalai Lama arrived here Sunday on the last leg of a North American tour to promote Tibetan autonomy and the preservation of its Buddhist culture ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Earlier, he said he had "reservations" about the US-led war in Afghanistan, and Canada's participation in it.
"When I met President Bush, I told him directly that some of your policies (on Iraq and Afghanistan), I have some reservations. But as a person, I love you. I mention like that," he told reporters.
The Dalai Lama said he had written to Bush in 2001 the day after the September 11 attacks expressing his condolences and sadness at the deaths of some 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington.
He had urged that any response to the attacks should be non-violent. "But then violence is involved," he lamented.
On Sunday the Dalai Lama spoke to an Ottawa crowd of about 5,000 people, saying US intentions in Iraq were "not necessarily" bad, but said the situation was getting worse.
"No matter what the intentions, methods become unrealistic. So instead of solving the problem (they) increase the problem," he said.