OTTAWA, March 21: Canada yesterday urged the Chinese government to start talks on Tibet with the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader-in-exile who Beijing has long viewed as a subversive force.
Despite its strongly worded calls for China to stop its crackdown on Tibet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government was mum on whether the Prime Minister or his ministers would attend the Summer Olympics in Beijing in August.
Mr. Harper issued a statement in which he called upon China to "fully respect human rights and peaceful protest."
His Foreign Affairs Minister, Maxime Bernier, followed with a call for Beijing to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama - in effect a message to China that the only acceptable way out of the Tibetan showdown is through talks.
"The most constructive option at the present time, I believe, would be for the government of China to enter into direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his designated representatives," Mr. Bernier said in a statement. "Such dialogue may help ensure an already tense situation does not deteriorate into further violence."
The message is part of an international effort to press China into talks with the Dalai Lama - officials in some other countries made similar statements yesterday, notably U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
About 600 people demonstrated in Ottawa yesterday against China's crackdown in Tibet, stopping on Parliament Hill where Conservative backbencher Pierre Poilievre read Mr. Harper's statement, which called on China to "show restraint."
"As his holiness the Dalai Lama told me when I met him, and as he has been saying recently, his message is one of non-violence and reconciliation and I join him in that call," Mr. Harper said in the statement. Mr. Harper's meeting with the Dalai Lama in Ottawa in November angered China.
However, Mr. Harper's government has not broached the issue most dear to China: the Beijing Olympics.
The Chinese government has accused a "clique" around the Dalai Lama of organizing violence in Tibet in a bid to sabotage the Olympics. Groups around the world, including the Canada Tibet Committee, have called for political leaders to skip the Olympics to show disapproval.
The White House said yesterday that U.S. President George W. Bush will not cancel his visit to the Olympics because of the Tibet crisis, arguing the event should be more about athletics than politics, and that the event would draw attention to China and its record.
Unlike other people, "he's able to speak very frankly to the Chinese president or the Russian president or whoever it might be," spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters, recalling that Mr. Bush has said previously he wants to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Mr. Harper's spokesman, Sandra Buckler, said the Prime Minister has not yet decided whether he will attend.
"We're looking at the situation closely," said another spokesman for Mr. Harper, Dimitri Soudas.
Wayne Marston, the NDP human-rights critic, said his party's caucus will meet in about two weeks to decide if its MPs should avoid the Games. The Liberals said the question was "premature" and foreign-affairs critic Bob Rae also called for dialogue.
Adam van Koeverden, a Canadian Olympic gold and bronze medalist in the kayak singles, said athletes are caught in the middle of a tug-of-war when politicians and activists bandy about the idea of boycotts.
"The Olympics are supposed to be an apolitical arena, when people get together for sport alone," said the 16-time world champion from Oakville, Ont.
France's human-rights minister Rama Yade said yesterday there should be no hasty international decision to boycott the opening ceremony of the Games over a crackdown in Tibet.
And Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has branded the boycott idea "unrealistic" but said the European Union may discuss the idea of staying away from the ceremony in Beijing.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Slovenia next week are expected to discuss the situation, with Mr. Kouchner saying some action should be taken but nothing that would antagonize China.