China reopens Tibet for foreign tourists, with just two visitors

6, June 26’08

After several false promises, China finally declared that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) had been opened for foreign tourists on Jun 25, although it continued to be closed for foreign media. “The success of the Olympic torch relay held three days ago in Lhasa demonstrated that the foundation for social stability has been further consolidated,” China’s official Xinhua news agency Jun 25 quoted Tanor, deputy director of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Bureau of Tourism, as saying. It cited China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao as telling reporters in Beijing Jun 24 that Tibet would not change the policy of opening-up.

But the reopening began with just two Swedish tourists arriving in Lhasa on Jun 25, to be followed by four from Singapore on Jun 29. This seemed to suggest that there would be no rush of foreign tourists any time soon, that this was only a cautious, symbolic reopening.

China shut down all Tibetan regions under its rule for foreign tourists and media since an uprising erupted there in Mar 2008. It began with a protest rally by some monks of Drepung Monastery in Lhasa on Mar 10. China’s brutal repression of this and a small protest on the Bharkor pilgrimage route and other subsequent peaceful protests by monks and nuns in the following days escalated Tibetan resentment. There was eruption of violence in the city on Mar 14, which quickly spread across the Tibetan Plateau.

The TAR was reopened for mainland Chinese tour groups since April 23, and for tourists from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan on May 1. However, the number of visitors was small and the tourism industry remained sluggish, with shopkeepers and hotel owners hoping to see business back on track once the promised reopening for foreign tourists takes place. The obviously cautious and limited reopening appears to suggest that they will have to wait much longer.

Besides, Tibet still remains closed to foreign media amid apparent official admission that the situation in Tibet was yet to fully stabilize. “We will continue to work hard to stabilise the situation in Tibet,” PTI news agency Jun 24 quoted Liu Jianchao as telling reporters while assuring that efforts would be made to throw open Tibet to foreign journalists “at an early date”. “We totally understand your aspiration to go to Tibet and we will help you to make this happen at an early date,” it quoted Mr Liu as saying.

China had earlier promised to reopen TAR by May 1, in time for the country’s May Day holiday. It said on Mar 18 that “normalcy” had returned to Lhasa and that the city would be reopened to foreign visitors “soon”. It later said the local government of TAR would make a decision about its early reopening after May 1. But as late as Jun 12, cited Qin as saying all the Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, etc., as well as the TAR were still off limits.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here