The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader for the world's Tibetan Buddhists, has started a North American visit Thursday in Vancouver. As Craig McCulloch reports, his trip has generated some controversy.
The Dalai Lama's visit to this west coast Canadian city comes after parliament unanimously approved giving the 72-year old Buddhist monk honorary citizenship.
That move and his visit brought strong reaction from the government of China. Earlier this year, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa called the Dalai Lama a separatist who should not receive such an honour. This week, he said the citizenship and his current visit would harm Canada's image and relationship with China.
In a press conference at Vancouver's city hall, the Dalai Lama says he is sorry for the inconvenience, but doubts there will be much fallout for the Canadian government.
"In the past, like in Norway, I can think of one occasion, in my visit there and also meeting some of the leaders there, the Chinese government made some serious protests. Then afterwards, not much consequence. So, I don't know. I don't know. I'm very sorry, where I go they always create some inconvenience, I'm very sorry, but hopefully not my mistake," he said.
The Dalai Lama is only the third person to ever receive honorary Canadian citizenship. The previous recipients were Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
The Tibetan religious leader started his 18-day North American tour here in Vancouver, with an official welcome at city hall. During his time in Vancouver, he will officially launch the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, which will be permanently located in the city. He will also hold a number of lectures for thousands of attendees on a variety of topics and meet with the local Tibetan community.
The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education is to be completed by 2009 and is designed to be non-political and non-religious. Organizers hope it will become a leader in promoting peace, research and dialogue.
The Dalai Lama last visited Vancouver in April of 2004, where he said that Tibetan independence is not one of his goals. Instead, he would like some sort of meaningful autonomy with the China.
After the Vancouver events, the Tibetan Buddhist leader will continue on Monday to Los Angeles, Denver and then several cities in New York State before returning home to Dharmsala, India on September 25.