No knights at this roundtable

Protesters marched in the bitter cold on Fri., Jan 25 and held flags at the windows of the Rozsa Centre’s Milling room while a roundtable discussion proceeded inside.

"It’s all a drama," asserted one anonymous protester. "They tell a pack of lies."

Religious affairs in Tibet was the scheduled but eventually neglected topic of discussion at the roundtable which featured University of Calgary academics and delegates from religious and ethnic studies groups in China.

"This will be an academic discussion about religion in Tibet," opened Dr. Leslie Kawamura, Chairman of the University of Calgary Asian Studies Group. "We are not interested in politics or current issues."

Nevertheless, the event was dominated both by politics and current issues.

Zhu Xiaoming, Deputy Director of the World Ethnic Institute of China and head of the delegation, opened the talks with a 40-minute reading from an essay consisting largely of encouraging economic and environmental data. The report contained details such as the fact that western China, including Tibet, only produces 17.5 per cent of China’s GDP while being home to 28 per cent of its citizens and that China hopes to boost the local economy by 12 per cent during each year of the current five-year plan.

"[Tibet’s] water, its air, its environment are quite good," Xiaoming said through his translator.

Xiaoming eventually turned to religion in Tibet, though he refrained from addressing the passing of Tibet into Chinese control.

"In China we carry out a policy of total religious freedom including the Tibetan religion," he explained. "The West has freedom of religion and the separation of religion from the state and China has accomplished this in Tibet."

Very few of those present seemed interested in a strictly academic discussion when the floor opened for questions. Challenges to China’s policy on Tibet and suggestions that the delegation was a propaganda move dominated the proceedings.

"Zhu Xiaoming is the number-one man as far as Tibet is concerned in Beijing," claimed Nima Dorjee, Director of the Faculty of Engineering’s Internship Program. "He worked in Tibet as the head of Propaganda Works for eight years."

"We came not to quarrel with somebody," countered Xiaoming, "but to discuss academic questions."

After the roundtable concluded, several people who were not previously permitted to voice their concerns to the Chinese delegates approached them, culminating in a brief shouting match.

"[Canada] is a free country," a delegate responded as they left the building. "We can say whatever we want."

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