By GEOFFREY YORK
BEIJING, October 29 — The Chinese government has warned that Canada could damage its relations with China if Prime Minister Stephen Harper goes ahead with his plan to meet the Dalai Lama Monday.
Mr. Harper will join a growing group of Western leaders who have deliberately chosen to greet the Tibetan spiritual leader in official venues, ignoring the objections of the Chinese government.
In the past, leaders met the Tibetan leader, but avoided official trappings. Monday's meeting will be the first time a Canadian prime minister has held formal talks at a government office with the exiled spiritual leader.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it has repeatedly protested against the visit to Canada by the Tibetan religious leader. It denounced him as a separatist who operates under the guise of religion.
“China has on many occasions made solemn representations to the Canadian side on the proposed visit of the Dalai Lama to Canada,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
“We call on the Canadian side to clearly understand the nature of the Dalai Lama's separatist activities and treat seriously China's serious concerns, and not to allow the Dalai Lama to visit, not allow him to use Canadian territory for activities to split China, and not to do anything to harm Sino-Canadian relations.”
So far, however, there is no sign of any formal Chinese retaliation against Canada to punish it for Mr. Harper's meeting with the Dalai Lama.
This fall, China cancelled several high-level meetings with the United States and Germany after their leaders met with the Dalai Lama.
Canada, however, has few high-level meetings scheduled with China over the next several weeks, so it is more difficult for China to cancel meetings.
The Dalai Lama arrived in Canada Sunday, and will head to government offices in Gatineau to meet Jason Kenney, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, followed by a news conference. Later, he will speak with Mr. Harper in his Parliament Hill office, and participate in a reception with parliamentarians.
In 2004, Paul Martin became the first Canadian prime minister to meet the Dalai Lama, but did so at the home of a Roman Catholic archbishop to emphasize the man's religious aspect.
The Dalai Lama will also visit Governor-General Michaëlle Jean at Rideau Hall Monday afternoon. He meets opposition politicians at a downtown hotel Tuesday.
Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush caused waves with China when he held a much heralded public meeting with the Dalai Lama and awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Australian Prime Minister John Howard have made similar gestures in recent months.
The Chinese government is “resolutely opposed” to anyone “in any country” who uses the Dalai Lama issue to “interfere in China's internal affairs,” the Chinese ministry said.
“As we all know, the Dalai Lama is a political exile under the cloak of religion who has been engaged in splitting the motherland and damaging national unity.”
The 72-year-old monk fled his homeland in 1959 following the collapse of a Tibetan uprising. He lives in exile in northern India.
Tory Senator Con di Nino has played an instrumental role in organizing this latest Canadian visit, as co-chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet. Mr. Di Nino said he is not worried by the very vocal objections of the Chinese government and its ambassador in Canada to the public meetings with the Dalai Lama. He emphasized that neither the Dalai Lama nor his allies are suggesting China leave Tibet, only that it be given autonomy with the requisite religious and cultural freedoms.
“China is not looking very good in all this. They're coming across as bullies. China can send out these press releases, but I don't believe they'll stop doing business with all these countries.”
With a report from Canadian Press