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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Official support for Tibet tepid at best

October 31, 2007

National Post
October 29, 2007

As political slogans go, "Free Tibet" has long had a whiff of pot smoke about it, as if it should be followed by "...dude."

This is in large part the achievement of the Beastie Boys, the hip-hop trio whose fascination with Tibetan Buddhism led them to sample chanting monks in their
songs, donate royalties to the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile in India and rally the hottest bands of the mid-'90s to the hugely successful Tibetan Freedom

It was not always so, and for many years since the 1950 Chinese invasion, the cause of Tibetan autonomy from Beijing's iron rule has at times been a diplomatic
footnote, all but obscured in the public mind -- to say nothing of stoned teenagers -- by the unrelenting rise of modern China.

"The awareness level of the Tibet cause grew as modern activism grew, and I also think as the West's discomfort with China grew," said Dermod Travis, executive
director of the Canada Tibet Committee, adding that it broke into pop culture sometime in the 1980s.

By the 1990s, it had gained such Hollywood spokesmen as Richard Gere and Steven Sea-gal. Since then, Martin Scorsese and Brad Pitt have made Dalai Lama
movies, ensuring public sympathy for years to come.

This trend is especially evident in historical documents released by the Parliamentary Friends of Tibet to coincide with the 72-year-old exiled leader's Canadian tour
this week, documents that reveal something like a fair-weather friendship.

They include, for example, a diplomatic report from 1944 that says "official China is determined to 'swallow' Sianking, Tibet, Outer Mongolia, Kansu and Sikang, no
matter what the people living in those regions may feel about the matter."

They also include a decision by Canada's Justice Department mere days after Chinese troops marched into the Tibetan capital Lhasa, forwarded through External
Affairs to the ambassador in Washington, instructing him on what to say if the matter came up at the United Nations.

It reveals that Canada believed the Chinese claim to sovereignty over Tibet was "a mere fiction," and that Tibet was "qualified for recognition as an independent

China may once have had a historical claim, however "ill-defined," but since the Chinese revolution in 1911, Tibet has ruled itself, the brief reads. (A similar
correspondence from the High Commissioner in New Delhi showed he held similar views.)

The most revealing part of the memo to Washington, however, is its conclusion: "It would be appreciated if you could obtain information on the U.S. view ... " In
between the lines was added: "U.K." Evidently, Washington and London had other ideas, and a declaration was never made.

"There was a great deal of communication going on between Ottawa and their High Commission in New Delhi, Washington, and Great Britain," Mr. Travis said, and
it focused on Tibet's military value to the Chinese, and how that would affect India, Nepal and Pakistan. "Thegeneralfeelingat the time was 'not significantly,' " he
said. At the time, there were no railways, no runways and no access from outside, except by perilous mountain roads. Even the Chinese were having a hard time
getting there.

To be fair, 10 years later, in 1960, Canada did vote in support of a United Nations resolution, and two more by 1965, but they were focused on human rights
violations by Chinese authorities in Tibet, not the autonomy question. In any case, the resolutions proved mostly toothless, and the concessions to China in vain.

"Nothing changes. And in many cases, those concessions [to China] are met with crackdowns [in Tibet]," Mr. Travis said.

In an interview last week with the National Post, the Dalai Lama said he considers Canada a good friend for being the second country, after Switzerland, to take
Tibetan refugees after the invasion. The Tibetan-Canadian population is now about 5,000, centred in Toronto, according to the Canada Tibet Committee.

Officially, Canada's position on Tibet is that China has one legitimate government in Beijing, and Canada "takes no position with regard to specific Chinese territorial
claims; it neither challenges nor endorses them."

In practice, however, there have been numerous public Canadian endorsements, however cautious, of the man China describes as a " splittist." The Dalai Lama first
visited Canada in 1980, meeting with the Governor-General. In 1990, he visited again and was greeted by the government minister for multiculturalism. In 1993, he
met the external affairs minister. Paul Martin was the first prime minister to meet him, in 2004, and last year he was granted honorary citizenship.

Mr. Travis said this slowly increasing support is a result of growing frustration at Beijing's refusal to entertain criticism on Tibet.

"I think what you're seeing now [with the Dalai Lama's recent meetings with Western leaders] is this increasing sense among Western democracies that: 'Have we
been taken to the cleaners?' " he said. "I think they're sending a message to China that change is expected."

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