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March 10 Op/ed

March 10, 2007

by Dermod Travis

In a newspaper interview this past February, China’s assistant foreign affairs minister for North America He Yafei implied that Canada’s trading relationship with China is in jeopardy if Canada continues to draw issue with China’s deplorable human rights record. Undoubtedly, it was merely coincidence that Mr. He’s threat came only weeks before the 48th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising at Lhasa and only days before the Chinese government issued a decree banning new internet cafes. Mr. He’s lecture was nothing if not badly timed.

Yet, the Harper government is to be commended for not cowing to such an overt display of economic blackmail. Canada’s relationship with China must have at its heart a fundamental respect for human rights. Sustainable, bilateral trading relations can never be built upon China’s labour prison camps, the imprisonment of political dissidents and the suppression of democracy with all its intrinsic values.

This past Saturday, thousands of Tibetans and their supporters gathered in capitals around the world to honour those who perished at the hands of the Chinese during the peaceful 1959 Lhasa uprising and to show their solidarity with the Tibet people.

In Canada, rallies were held in Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Victoria and Vancouver to commemorate the lives of thousands of men, women and children who were slaughtered by a bombardment of 800 Chinese artillery shells as they formed a human shield to protect the Dalai Lama and his government at the Norbulingka Palace. Two hundred members of the Dalai Lama’s personal security team were publicly executed.

Tragically, the Tibetan death toll under Chinese occupation continues to mount. One of those deaths, captured on video this past fall by a Hungarian news crew in the mountains of Nepal, has since been viewed by millions on newscasts and YouTube – ironically one of the many web sites officially banned in China.

Despite China’s reprehensible behaviour, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile continue to seek a peaceful resolution to Tibet’s status within China; an agreement that must include respect for human rights and adequate protection for Tibet’s distinct culture, language, and religion.

Thanks in part to the initiative of Canadian Senator Consiglio Di Nino and the Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Tibet; parliaments around the world are standing with His Holiness to urge China to reach such an agreement over Tibet’s status. Parliamentarians from countries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas representing hundreds of millions of citizens are delivering a clear message to Beijing expressing unequivocal support for a just settlement.

In February, Canada’s House of Commons unanimously passed a motion calling for China and the Dalai Lama to continue their dialogue towards pragmatic solutions that “respect the Chinese constitutional framework, the territorial integrity of China and fulfill the aspirations of the Tibetan people for a unified and genuinely autonomous Tibet”. A similar motion is before the Senate and will likely come to a vote later this month.

Europe’s Parliament, representing 27 countries, also called on the European Commission, the EU Council, and member states to work with other countries to further the Chinese-Tibetan dialogue. “In the absence of tangible results,” it urged consideration of the appointment of an “EU Special Representative for Tibet.” Tom Lantos, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, has hailed the Canadian initiative and noted that the Foreign Relations Committee’s first hearing on China would be devoted to the Tibetan issue. It will, he said, “signal to Beijing the seriousness of our resolve.”

China has an opportunity. Five years ago, after awarding Beijing the 29th Olympic Games, IOC President Jacques Rogge said "we are convinced that the Olympic Games will improve human rights in China". Today, supported by parliaments worldwide, China still has time to deliver on Jacques Rogge’s promise. But time is short.

In 18 months, athletes from around the world will compete at the Beijing Olympics. And now the only question that remains is whether China will honour Jacques Rogge’s promise, because the world still remembers and in just over a year the world will be watching.

Dermod Travis is the Executive Director of the Canada Tibet Committee,

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