By Tenzin Dharpo
Chinese police in Lhasa city in Tibet. file
DHARAMSHALA, Feb. 22: Ahead of the anniversary of the infamous 1959 uprising in Tibet, China has banned access to Tibet for foreign tourists until April in readiness to avoid similar protests in occupied Tibet. The 2019 commemoration of the March 10 is the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising and is commemorated by Tibetan exiles as a day to especially rise against China’s colonial rule in Tibet.
The practice to ban foreign tourists in March by Chinese authorities has been an annual occurrence since the 2008 Pan-Tibet protests which saw Tibetans from all regions of the plateau rise against Beijing’s rule. The 2008 protest is considered the largest and most participated, second only to the 1959 protests.
While there is no official directive on the ban, travel agencies operating in the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) have been urging clients to register for trips after April 1 citing permit issues from the government. Last year foreign tourists were denied access into Tibet from February 10 to April 1.
The ban on tourists, many say, is just the tip of the iceberg with rights groups anticipating much stricter movements for native Tibetans, more personnel stationed especially in and around the capital Lhasa and more crack downs inside occupied Tibet, in the month of March.
Tourism is a lucrative market in Tibet with over 30 million tourists visiting last year, raking in over 5 billion USD. The numbers are further expected to rise in the coming years with the government putting in place ambitious developmental projects, often at the expense of the native Tibetans who have reported increasingly incidents of land-grabs and forced resettlements.
On March 10, 1959, the capital of Lhasa erupted in protest and in protection of their leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama against Chinese troops at the Norbulingka palace. The ensuing offensive by PLA resulted in the deaths of 87,000 Tibetans according to the exile Tibetan government records.
The young Dalai Lama who fled Tibet into India in 1959 is labelled a “separatist” by Beijing despite his willingness to stay with Beijing and seek “meaningful autonomy” for his people. The exile Tibetan government based here has adopted the same as the official stand of the Tibetan people through consensus in the Tibetan parliament in 1991.