Dalai Lama meeting symbolic

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

October 30, 2007 Ed Cartoon

The Chinese Government is threatening economic sanctions against Canada in response to this week’s meeting between the Dalai Lama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Parliament Hill.

Citing the political nature of a meeting at the nation’s parliament, the Chinese are upset with the Canadian Government for seemingly condoning His Holiness’ separatist stance on Tibet.

There is some debate as to the seriousness of the issue " whether China will actually follow through on sanctions, and if so how serious they will be, remains to be seen.

Regardless, Canada’s meeting with the Dalai Lama sends an important message to the Chinese and to the international community as a whole.

Human rights abuses in China have necessitated an international response in recent years, and a political and spiritual leader such as His Holiness lends important symbolism to the issue’s importance.

Of course, Canada runs the risk China will follow through on threats of sanctions. The rising economic superpower is important for the Canadian economy; any tangible economic consequences would be damaging.

However, China has threatened similar action against a number of other states meeting with the Dalai Lama without following through, most notably the United States during His Holiness’ recent visit to the White House to meet with President George W. Bush.

China appears to have been bluffing in its threats against the White House. The precedent set by the American meeting makes our own meeting a safer diplomatic move.

The meeting allows Prime Minister Harper to take a more moderate stance on international issues without hurting his conservative voting base. The issue is surely a welcome change of image from the usual militaristic stigma attached to the Conservatives.

As well, Canada fashions itself as a compassionate nation in the developing world, continuing a tradition of peacekeeping and involvement overseas. Gestures like the Dalai Lama’s visit may be worth the risk.

If successful, the meeting should serve to break down barriers and create a more effective forum for solving the problems currently plaguing China.

It’s impossible to predict what China will do in the meeting’s aftermath, but in light of the possible benefits, it is a good thing the meeting is being held on Parliament Hill.

One meeting will only do so much to curb flawed human rights abuses in China, but opening the dialogue can only help.

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