Canada’s ex-PM praises China, questions honouring Dalai Lama

August 19th, 2008 - 2:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Aug 19 (IANS) Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien has eulogised China as the next superpower and criticised the current government for irking Beijing by honouring Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.Chretien, who was Canada’s prime minister from 1993 to 2003, also said that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had committed a blunder by not attending the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony.

Speaking at the Canadian Bar Association in Quebec City Sunday, he said the current government had failed to understand China’s importance as the world’s biggest economy.

The Chinese, he said, have a long “collective memory” for international insults heaped on them. There will be future consequences for Canada because of the current administration’s actions, he added.

“If you think that attacking them would be positive, what do you gain? It is the second-biggest economy in the world, and in 50 years, it will be the biggest economy. Suddenly, you break the bridge,” said Chretien.

Saying that Tibet is a problem, he added: “But Tibet has been a province for them for a long, long time. To make the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen of Canada was not a compliment to China.”

The Dalai Lama may be an icon for others, “but for them (the Chinese), the Dalai Lama is not a religious leader”, he said.

“I have to tell you that when you say (they are) resistant to change, you should have been with me in 1994 when I visited China. Go to China today and you’ll see there has been a hell of a lot of change. They have improved.”

Canada, he said, was too small a player to hurt the Chinese with its boycotts.

“You think that Canada is very important in the world? I remember when I was going to China, the press saying: ‘Mr. Chretien, you have to tell the president of China to do this and do that’. Oh really?

“You want me to tell the president of a country of 1.3 billion people you should do this and do that, but I don’t dare to say what to do to the premier of Saskatchewan (Canada’s province)? You have to put things in perspective.”

Chretien said: “We are at the bottom of the ladder in terms of having any influence with China. Ask any businessman who has been to China, and he will tell you the same thing.”

The former prime minister went on to add that Canada will have to live with reality. “It’s 1.3 billion people, and I’m telling you that they are moving fast,” he said.

“You have to live with the reality they have. If you gave the freedom of movement we give in Canada today, there would be 20 million people arriving in Shanghai within a year. How do you deal with 20 million refugees coming into one city? It’s a very realistic problem,” said Chretien, who laid special thrust on promoting trade ties with Beijing during his 10-year tenure.

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