Jun 26, 2008

Tibet: Tourists Allowed to Return

Sample ImageIn a bid to present the region as “stable and harmonious”, China has reopened Tibet to foreign tourism. But the continued exclusion of journalists and detention of activists would indicate otherwise.

Below is an article published by Telegraph.co.uk:

Three and a half months after Lhasa and other Tibetan areas were riven by protests and riots, a group from Sweden became the first foreign tourists to arrive.

"Tibet's society is stable and harmonious, its markets bustling, and its environment beautiful," the government said in a statement on the official Tibet tourism website.

"Tibet is safe," declared Tanor, an ethnic Tibetan deputy director of the local tourist authority.

But at the same time the government became involved in another row over its attitude to the Dalai Lama, even as it tried to present a "back to normal" face to the outside world.

The International Olympic Committee said it was making inquiries about remarks made by the Communist Party secretary of Tibet as he welcomed the Olympic torch to Lhasa on Saturday [21 June 2008].

Zhang Qingli, a noted hardliner, said: "Tibet's sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it. We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique."

The IOC and China have both rejected calls for boycotts of the Beijing Games insisting that politics and sport should be kept separate, a principle Mr Zhang's speech seemed to contradict.

A spokeswoman for the Games said Mr Zhang's remarks, if reported accurately, were "regrettable".

Leaving aside the future of Tibet's supposed political autonomy and the religious clashes over the role of the Dalai Lama, the protests in Tibet and the subsequent military crackdown have been a disaster for China's attempts to use tourism to develop the province economically.

Zhong Chunlei, sales manager for the Brahmaputra Hotel, the only luxury hotel in Lhasa, said it had received hardly any custom since the protests broke out in March [2008]. "Only about 20 per cent of our rooms are in service," he said. "It's tough on our managers."


Liu Jin, of the China Travel Service in Lhasa, said at least 3,000 customers had cancelled in the last three months. "We have been cancelling reservations month by month," she said. "Normally we have a full list for the whole of the next year by November or December."

The number of Chinese tourists coming to Tibet has risen dramatically since the opening of the province's first railway, the world's highest, two years ago. This year, the tourist authorities had been preparing for five million visitors this year, but instead had received little over 100,000.

Tibet support groups abroad say that the exclusion of foreigners and in particular foreign journalists has served to hide the authorities' campaign of suppression of monasteries and other centres of dissent.

Thousands have been arrested and hundreds remain in detention following the protests, while the authorities have tightened their campaign of "patriotic education" in the monasteries, which includes forcing monks to denounce the Dalai Lama.