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Canada Dalai Lama praises Harper's balancing act on Tibetan rights, Chinese trade

Senator Consiglio Di Nino escorts the Dalai Lama around Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

The Dalai Lama is praising Prime Minister Stephen Harper for balancing Canadian values such as human rights with the need to further economic ties with China.

"I think he managed it very well, keep close relation with China, at the same time his own democratic value, he stand firm, that's very good," the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said at a news conference that followed his public talk on Saturday.

The Dalai Lama was in Ottawa to attend a convention of world parliamentarians on Tibet. He also had a brief private meeting with Mr. Harper on Friday.

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The 76-year-old Buddhist said little about what the two men talked about, but joked that nobody dominated the conversation.

"When I open my mouth, usually it's a long sentence," he said with a laugh.

Mr. Harper irritated China when he met publicly in 2007 with the Dalai Lama, who China considers a dangerous separatist.

However, in recent years he has made two trips to China to boost trade with the rapidly growing economic superpower.

Mr. Harper's meeting with the Dalai Lama was considerably more low-key, held in private in Mr. Harper's office. The Prime Minister's Office said little about the meeting and waited until Friday evening before releasing a photo of the two men.

The Dalai Lama acknowledged Canada's difficult balancing act during Saturday's news conference and the "inconvenience" it would cause Harper in realizing Canada's ambitions in expanding trade with China.

"He had the courage to meet me, so I very much appreciate that," the spiritual leader said.

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However, Mr. Harper's immigration minister took a more public profile on Friday at the parliamentarians' conference.

Jason Kenney expressed the government's support for the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Laureate to whom Canada granted honorary citizenship in 2006.

Mr. Kenney reiterated Canada's commitment to open an office of religious freedom within the Foreign Affairs Department.

He also noted 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.

Members of Parliament from all the major federal parties attended the meeting and discussed the deteriorating situation of Tibetans, who have witnessed the self immolation of more than three dozen monks over the last year to protest Chinese oppression.

The immensely popular Dalai Lama fled his homeland in 1959, nine years after Chinese troops invaded Tibet.

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During his visit to Ottawa he was joined by Hollywood actor and Tibetan Buddhist activist Richard Gere, who criticized Mr. Harper for not doing enough to support the Tibetan cause.

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