By Mike Blanchfield and Aileen McCabe
Canwest News Service
March 10, 2009 7:02 PM
On Tuesday's 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama called the Chinese control of his former homeland "hell on earth."
But almost a decade before that ill-fated 1959 rebellion against China's powerful military, one that ultimately drove the young 14th Dalai Lama into exile, Canada's then-External Affairs department essentially concluded the Chinese incursion was a violation Tibet's nationhood.
"The question is, should Canada consider Tibet to be an independent state, a vassal of China, or an integral portion of China. It is submitted that the Chinese claim to sovereignty over Tibet is not well-founded," says the Nov. 21, 1950, legal opinion by External Affairs, which has since been declassified.
The opinion, stamped "confidential" at the time, was circulated to Canada's embassy in Washington and its mission at the United Nations in New York.
The collection of diplomatic cables and memorandums, spanning the Second World War to the 1960s, has since been released by the National Archives. It offers a unique historical glimpse into Canada's connection to the Tibetan problem that simmers to this day.
"Canada has serious concerns about the human-rights situation in China, including in Tibet, and raises these concerns with the Chinese government at every appropriate opportunity," Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told Canwest News Service on Tuesday in an e-mailed statement.
"Canada regularly calls on the Government of China to respect the right of Tibetans to protest peacefully, and to take steps to improve the human-rights situation in Tibet.
"Canada has consistently advocated substantive dialogue between the People's Republic of China and the Dalai Lama, or his designated representatives."
Tuesday's anniversary was marked by pro-Tibetan rallies and protests in Canadian cities, and dozens more across the globe, in addition to the Dalai Lama's own statement.
In Tibet, under the watchful eye of a massive security force, the anniversary passed without reports of the kinds of demonstrations that developed into riots last year and left scores of people dead and wounded.
The Chinese claim 20 died at the hands of protesters in 2008, but Tibetan and human-rights groups say 200 Tibetans were killed and 1,200 Tibetans from three Chinese provinces remain missing.
Foreign journalists are banned from the Tibetan plateau area, but Xinhua reported only one incident late Monday night in the Tibetan area of Qinghai Province where a police car and fire truck were destroyed by homemade explosives.
The news agency's summary of the day's events in Lhasa said: "The holy city of Lhasa was quiet and peaceful Tuesday, the day marking 50 years since Tibet's democratic reform."
Tibet's exiled leaders say at least 200 Tibetans have been killed since a Chinese military crackdown on dissent that arose last March in Tibet. China beefed up its military presence in the region in anticipation of Tuesday's anniversary, while barring Western media from visiting Tibet.
China's military annexed Tibet in 1950, saying they were liberating the Tibetans from feudal serfdom.
Today, the Chinese Communist government has all but vilified the Dalai Lama, branding him a separatist agitator.
Speaking to thousands of his supporters from Dharamsala, the Indian town that houses Tibet's government in exile, Tibet's 73-year-old spiritual leader renewed his call Tuesday for China to recognize "legitimate and meaningful autonomy" for Tibet as he characterized the decades of suffering as "hell on earth" for the people there.
Looking ahead, the Dalai Lama's envoy to the United States told Canwest News Service the world will be hearing a lot more from the spiritual leader in the months to come, including a trip to Canada in September that will take him to Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.
"He will continue to shoulder the major responsibility," Lobsang Nyandak, the Dalai Lama's New York-based envoy, said in a recent interview.
"For the last 50 years, we have been receiving international support and concern. That was the highest last year, when there was a crackdown in Tibet. Despite the international community's support, the Chinese government continued to suppress the Tibetan people."
Nyandak disputed the Chinese government's characterization of the Dalai Lama as a separatist who wants to divide China. He accused Beijing of thwarting all recent attempts at meaningful negotiations to resolve the Tibet problem by imposing untenable preconditions.
"For example, having the Dalai Lama recognize that Tibet has always been a part of China . . . the Dalai Lama has said many times that he cannot tell lies or rewrite the history of Tibet."
In 1950, Canada's External Affairs department reached the legal conclusion that Tibet had demonstrated its historical independence from China.
"Chinese suzerainty, perhaps existent, though ill-defined, before 1911, appears since then, on the basis of facts available to us, to have been a mere fiction," the document concluded.
"In fact, it appears that, during the past 40 years, Tibet has controlled its own internal and external affairs. Viewing the situation thus, I am of the opinion that Tibet is, from the point of view of international law, qualified for recognition as an independent state."
China's state-owned news agency, Xinhua, in reporting Tuesday on clashes between police with protesters in Nepal, summarized the historical context this way:
"Fifty years ago, the central government of China foiled the armed rebellion started on March 10 by the Dalai Lama and his supporters to block the reform of feudal serfdom in Tibet and split the region from China. . . . The Dalai Lama and his followers, since their exile, have continued to pursue either disguised on undisguised activities to separate Tibet from China and restore feudal serfdom in the region."
In October 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosted the Dalai Lama on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the first time a Canadian leader met him in an official venue. Three years earlier, then-prime minister Paul Martin hosted the Dalai Lama at the Ottawa home of the Roman Catholic Archbishop.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa denounced Harper's decision.
On Tuesday, Cannon also called on China "to grant access to all international observers (diplomats, journalists) and UN representatives to the Tibetan Autonomous Region."
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