OTTAWA - The Harper government firmly aligned itself Friday with one of China's sworn enemies — the Dalai Lama, who thanked the world for its support of Tibetan Buddhists under siege.
His voice resonating through Ottawa's historic, high-ceilinged conference centre that was once the capital's main train station, the charismatic, orange-robed Tibetan holy leader said his "ancient nation, with ancient culture, is in danger of dying."
"As fellow human brothers, sisters really showing us your solidarity, and you really want to do something, I very much appreciate," the Dalai Lama said, leaning over his dais to address the Sixth World Parliamentarians' Convention on Tibet.
The gathering included parliamentarians from around the world, including MPs from Canada's three main federal parties. They were discussing the dire and deteriorating situation of the Tibetans, who have witnessed the self immolation of more than three dozen monks over the last year to protest China's oppression.
The Conservatives have grand trade ambitions with China, which considers the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist. But several Tory caucus members were on hand to lend support to the Tibetan cause, including Sen. Consiglio Di Nino, who heads the Canadian parliament's Friends of Tibet group.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told the conference the government supports the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Laureate on which Canada conferred honorary citizenship in 2006.
Kenney reiterated Canada's commitment to open an office of religious freedom within the Foreign Affairs Department, as well as a 2008 statement from Canada calling on China to respect protests and enter into meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to peacefully resolve the Tibet issue.
"We continue to have encouraged positive dialogue with his holiness," Kenney told the gathering.
The minister remained at the conference's head table for the Dalai Lama's speech.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper later privately welcomed the controversial and popular exiled Tibetan spiritual leader to his Parliament Hill office Friday afternoon.
The Prime Minister's Office released a photo late Friday of Harper greeting the Dalai Lama.
Harper's office billed the meeting as a "private courtesy call," in an apparent a gesture to soothe any hard feelings with China.
The developments will not be viewed favourably by China's Communist government.
The Conservative government has ambitious trade ambitions with China, and understands that Beijing does not take kindly to Western governments showing the Dalai Lama hospitality.
But that didn't matter to some Tories at the gathering.
"I think China is going to buy oil and wheat and chemicals and iron ore. They need that stuff. They want that stuff," said Alberta MP Rob Anders. "Whether or not we draw attention to human rights abuses or to their diplomatic oversteps, to their intimidation or diplomacy or whatever, they're still going to need those supplies."
Opposition MPs backed the Conservatives in their show of support for the Tibetan cause.
New Democrat MP Peggy Nash, whose Toronto riding is home to more Tibetan immigrants than anywhere in Canada, said Kenney has an active history of supporting the persecuted group.
"Acceptance of dictatorships perhaps diminishes our own democracy, so we should be working to promote democracy," she said. "That's a positive thing to do and I see the minister's support in that context."
Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a longtime human rights advocate, said he was happy to see all-party support for "one of the greatest heroes of our time."
"I'm glad that the minister was here. I think that the Dalai Lama and his cause deserve support. This is not a matter of party, it's a matter of cause."
The Dalai Lama showed trademark humour, kicking off his speech by telling Kenney, "Canada belongs to the Canadian people, not to your party (or) other party," before breaking into one of his trademark giggles.
But the immensely popular 76-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, who fled his homeland in 1959, nine years after Chinese troops invaded the Himalayan plateau, also delivered a profound update about the resiliency of his people and the prospects of democratic change in China.
The international supporters of Tibet are "spokesmen for Tibetan people inside Tibet," who cannot express their views, and who "simply carry fears and suffering, day by day."
Earlier Friday, Hollywood actor and Tibetan Buddhist activist Richard Gere called on Harper to meet the Dalai Lama in public.
Gere, in Ottawa for the Dalai Lama's visit, said Harper should do more.
"The positive thing was that he met him. The less positive thing is that it wasn't public," Gere told reporters at the conference.
Harper angered the Chinese Embassy when he met the Tibetan leader in 2007, but has since made two trips to China to boost trade with the Asian economic superpower.
"I have no trouble with trade with the Chinese, but to diminish ourselves in the process is a double death for the Chinese people, because it perpetuates the totalitarian state and it kills us in the core of who we are," said Gere.
Gere chaired a panel discussion at the Friday meeting and called this a "delicate moment" in the history of the Tibetan movement.
Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin became the first Canadian leader to host the Dalai Lama in 2004.
Martin tried to assuage China's concerns by meeting the Tibetan leader on neutral ground at the home of Ottawa's Roman Catholic archbishop.
Here are a few details of the major investment deal coming soon between Canada and China, as well as a list of what CBC chief political correspondent Terry Milewski calls a "small blizzard of incremental agreements," signed in Beijing. <em>With files from CBC</em>. (Diego Azubel-PoolGetty Images)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) between Canada and China the first "comprehensive economic agreement" between the two countries. In fact, what was signed by Harper and Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao in Beijing is not the final deal, but a declaration of intent: Now it must be legally reviewed and ratified by both governments, which for Canada will mean a debate in the House of Commons. Once both countries complete this process, it will need to be formally signed to take effect. This deal will protect Canadians investing in China, as well as Chinese investors in Canada, from "discriminatory and arbitrary practices." Once in place, investors can have more confidence that rules will be enforced and valuable business deals will be subject to predictable legal practices. Harper told reporters in Beijing he "absolutely" expected that it will make a "practical difference." "The agreement does not override existing Canadian law in regard to foreign investment and foreign investment review," Harper said. "Those laws remain in place." Negotiations for this agreement took 18 years, and key players in manufacturing, mining and the financial sectors were consulted to get to this stage. It's not unusual for Canada to have this kind of an agreement with a trading partner. FIPAs are in force with 24 other countries that trade with Canada, and active negotiations are underway with 10 other countries, according to the government's announcement. (Diego Azubel-PoolGetty Images)
(AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)
- A new protocol, building on a 2010 agreement to restore Canada's market access to the Chinese market for Canadian beef following the 2003 BSE outbreak and resulting border closures, to allow industrial beef tallow (fat) to be imported for the first time in almost a decade. China used to be Canada's top export market for tallow ($31 million in 2002), and now Canada has a shot at a share of the $400 million in tallow China imports from around the world. - A memorandum of understanding (MOU) on canola research, to address a recent fungal disease in canola and rapeseed that threatens Canada's valuable trading relationship with China in canola. - On Tuesday, Chinese aquaculture feed company Tongwei announced it will increase its purchase of Canadian canola by up to $240 million per year by 2015. (DAVID BUSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
- A MOU between Natural Resources Canada and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to collaborate on scientific research on sustainable development of natural resources. The government release touts benefits including new technologies for resource firms, carbon emissions reduction strategies, reduced environmental impacts and natural hazards from resource development, and new opportunities for Canadian suppliers of equipment and services. - A MOU spelling out a "framework" for Parks Canada and China's state forestry administration to collaborate and share scientific expertise in the management of national parks, natural reserves and other protected areas. The agreement includes language around ecological restoration, conservation measures for endangered wildlife, wetlands development, and the preservation of forests and wetlands. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/47096398@N08/" target="_hplink">Flickr: eleephotography</a>)
- A continuation of the MOU, first signed in 2001 and renewed in 2006, on energy co-operation to "engage China on energy issues" through a Canada-China joint working group on energy co-operation, chaired by Natural Resources Canada and China's national energy administration, which is responsible for Chinese energy policy. The working group oversees joint research projects, exchange of expertise, and co-operation between energy companies in both countries, including the promotion of energy efficiency and renewables. It aims to both attract capital investment and improve market access for Canadian energy resources and technology. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
- Approval of seven projects, valued at $10 million, under the Canada-China framework for co-operation on science and technology and innovation, including: a diagnostic kit for acute kidney injuries, a wind energy seawater desalination system, a waste heat-recovery system to help oil refineries consume less fuel, new solar cells for renewable energy panels, a real-time multi-sensor navigational tracking device for hand-held devices, a blue-green algae bloom warning system and "next generation" large-scale geographic information systems. - Two more calls for proposals, valued at $18 million ($9 million from each country) for joint research under the same framework. These proposals are for the development of "innovations with high commercial potential" in the areas of human vaccines and clean automotive transportation. The Canada-China joint committee on science and technology, made up of individuals from industry, academia and government, sets the priorities and oversees these projects. (To date, 21 projects ranging from nuclear power to AIDS drugs, to clean technologies for pulp and paper have received some $28 million in funding.) (TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
- A renewed MOU extending and modifying the Canada-China scholars' exchange program, which has seen 900 students travel between Canada and China since 1973. New eligibility rules and scholarships will be in place for the next round of competitions in 2012, including eight to 12 Canadian scholarships for Chinese professionals and 20 awards for Canadian university students. (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/plutor/" target="_hplink">Flickr: Plutor</a>)