Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama (L) displays a scarf presented to him by Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the start of their meeting in Harper's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 29, 2007. Photograph by : REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Toronto, October 29: Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the Dalai Lama to Canada on Monday with the red-carpet treatment, risking the anger of China, which has been critical of western leaders who meet with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.
Monday's meeting is the first time a Canadian prime minister has met with the Dalai Lama at federal government offices. Former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin met the 72-year-old monk in 2004, but did so at the private home of a Catholic archbishop to avoid drawing political ire.
Canada's Conservative leader followed in the footsteps of U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in choosing to meet with him in public and official venues, lending the leader an air of political support.
Harper has said he will not back down on speaking about human rights in China for the "almighty dollar."
Chinese officials in Canada later blasted the warm reception.
"It is a blatant interference in China's internal affairs and has severely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and will gravely undermine the relationship between China and Canada," Sun Lushan, of the Chinese Embassy, told reporters.
"If you do something to interrupt the normal trade between the two sides, both sides will be hurt, and fundamentally the interests of the two countries and the two peoples will be hurt," he said.
The diminutive, perpetually upbeat monk had joked earlier in the day that he paid little attention to formalities, or where he met with people. Secretary of State for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney hosted the Dalai Lama at his government office in Gatineau, Quebec.
While the Dalai Lama saluted Canada's multicultural, multiracial and harmonious country as a "model" for the world, he told legislators he disagreed with the war in Afghanistan to combat terrorism.
He said he would bring it up during his meeting with the Canadian leader, but Harper did not raise the issue during their 40-minute closed-door meeting, Kenney said.
In a speech earlier this month on its priorities for a new session of Parliament, the Conservative government said Canada's military mission in Afghanistan should be extended to at least 2011, but promised a vote on the issue. Seventy-one Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2002. Canada has about 2,300 soldiers operating in Kandahar province, the former Taliban stronghold.
"Using violence to counter violence, sometimes it creates more complicated" situations, the Dalai Lama told a gathering of government officials at Parliament Hill on Ottawa before his meeting with Harper.
The Dalai Lama is lauded in much of the world as a figure of moral authority, but Beijing demonizes the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and claims he seeks to destroy China's sovereignty by pushing for independence for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama says he wants "real autonomy" for Tibet, not independence. He is immensely popular in the Himalayan region, which China has ruled with a heavy hand since its communist-led forces invaded in 1951.
He has lived with followers in exile in India since fleeing Chinese soldiers in Tibet in 1959, and said Monday that suppression of religion, language and culture is getting worse in Tibet.
China could stand to learn much from Canada's example, he said.
"I think firstly it is my duty to express on behalf of many, many groups of people who suffer under human-rights violations," he said. "I want to tell (Harper) he is one of the leaders who speaks very strongly about human-rights issues.
"My main commitment is promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony — wherever I go I speak about these two things."
The Dalai Lama was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in 2006.