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Stéphane Dion’s welcome candour about Tibet and China

The successive visits of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to China and Premier Li Keqiang to Ottawa in September carried some overtones of naiveté on Canada's part – perhaps most notably, the agreement to begin negotiations toward an bilateral extradition treaty, with an apparent emphasis on supposed economic crimes of Chinese citizens to be shipped back to China.

So it is reassuring, and indeed encouraging, that Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion answered questions in late September about Tibet with considerable candour.

Back in June, Randall Garrison, an NDP MP from Vancouver Island, tabled written questions in the House of Commons on what China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).

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Since 1950, when the Chinese army came in, China has asserted full sovereignty over Tibet.

Mr. Dion's answers were particularly about the ability – or rather lack of it – of Canadians to visit Tibet, including the projects of the former Canadian International Development Agency. Even ambassadors were only allowed to visit one project on any one trip. Canadian embassy staffers were kept out. Chinese officials said these projects were no longer relevant to Canada.

Tibet is not an ordinary Chinese province, and any foreigner has to get a permit. Chinese officials are not in the habit of actually refusing entry to Tibet, but they conveniently find excuses not to grant it.

On the other hand, China has sent a whole series of parliamentary delegations to Canada from TAR, from 2009 to 2015.

The Chinese authorities in Tibet don't like to out-and-out refuse visits to TAR to high-level visitors, but they find ways to "routinely attempt to either delay the visits or to make it very difficult to obtain permits," in the words of Mr. Dion. The same pattern appears throughout the years 2010 to 2015.

This is a remarkably candid interpretation for a foreign affairs minister to offer about an apparently friendly government; that is, one so warmly approached by Prime Minister Trudeau. And that's a good thing.

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