Wednesday, July 26, 2006

China to Canada: Dalai Lama Award Could Hurt Ties

OTTAWA, Canada, July 26 (Reuters) -- China said today that Canada's decision to bestow honorary citizenship on the Dalai Lama could hurt commercial relations between the two countries, which have been steadily growing stronger.

The Tibetan leader-in-exile, who fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, is considered by Beijing to be a separatist.

Canada's Parliament unanimously approved the award of an honorary citizenship last month, which will be bestowed on the Dalai Lama when he visits Vancouver in early September.

The honor will mark the third time Canada has bestowed honorary citizenship. The others are former South African President Nelson Mandela and Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg, who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in World War II.

Zhang Weidong, political counselor at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, Canada, said his officials had already complained to the Foreign Ministry about the award.

"The Dalai Lama is a separatist so I don't think he should be honored with that. That will harm the Canadian image and harm the relationship between China and Canada. We hope these things will not happen in the future," he told a news conference.

More than a million people of Chinese descent live in Canada and trade between the two nations is increasing rapidly.

Among the firms doing business in China is Bombardier Inc., which built most of the passenger cars for the new high-altitude railway to Tibet.

"China has a big market and we hope we can cooperate with all the countries in the world. But certainly, if some troubles always appear or emerge within the bilateral relationship, then the relationship in other areas certainly will be hurt," said Zhang, who spoke in English.

Asked if this represented a threat to Canadian firms, he replied with a smile: "I don't think it's a threat. I'm just trying to make things clearer. It is a clear fact and very easy to be seen."

Canada's previous Liberal government was enthusiastic about boosting ties with China and sent several high-level trade missions headed by prime ministers.

But the new Conservative government, which took power in February, is cooler toward Beijing and has already complained about Chinese industrial espionage in Canada.

Last month Prime Minister Stephen Harper told his Japanese counterpart that China was a challenge the two countries should work together to tackle, Japanese officials said.

When in opposition, the Conservatives also strongly backed the island of Taiwan, which China claims as sovereign territory.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said Ottawa was "committed to building a strong and comprehensive relationship with China" and did not recognize Tibet's government-in-exile.

An official Chinese commentary on Wednesday accused the Dalai Lama -- who has proposed a "middle way" policy, seeking autonomy but not independence for Tibet -- of collaborating with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.