By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, MAR 24: Authorities of Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan have reopened Tibetan tourist sites risking the lives of local Tibetan residents to a second wave of the virus coming into the region amid coronavirus outbreak, raising concerns about the safety of Tibetans.
Chaksam Kha monastery in Kardze reopened on Friday with an upper limit of 4,000 visitors per day, announced a Chinese tour company. The company will grant free admission to the sites to medical professionals who fought at the forefront against Covid-19. Radio Free Asia (RFA) cites sources where serious concern over China’s return to normalcy is being highlighted as China faces a possible recession as the virus continues to spread worldwide.
The government claims that every confirmed case in the prefecture has recovered and there is no danger in visiting the tourist areas. A Tibetan living in Dhartsedo (Kangding) told RFA, “We are still scared of the virus. We have self-quarantined and hardly go out, and if we do, we wear facemasks . . . But now that they are reopening the tourist sites in Kardze, hundreds of [Han] Chinese visitors are coming into our area every day.
Another Tibetan source told RFA, “As soon as the Chinese put forward the claim that coronavirus has subsided here, the tour operators were in such a hurry to make money that everyone is overlooking and disregarding the health, safety, and security of the local people.” There are many doubts as to why the authorities would risk the spread of the virus by reopening these sites. Some have claimed that this is solely to generate money through tourism as the virus continues to impact the Chinese economy.
A Tibetan named Azi Lhundup (Azhen Nengzhou) was found dead on Mar 15 at a police station in Sichuan province where he worked as an official. The death has been highlighted by the Chinese state media stating that he worked for 24 hours the day before, citing a Tibetan’s sacrifice in the war against Covid-19. Bhuchung Tsering from International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) told RFA, “The reporting of Azi Lhundup’s death appears to be an attempt by China to present a Tibetan poster boy for the campaign against coronavirus.
“Months after the eruption of the pandemic, Chinese authorities have yet to provide figures for the number of Tibetan casualties. Despite this, official Chinese media reported in detail about Azi Lhundup’s Tibetan nationality and his membership in the Chinese Communist Party.
“This seems to be an attempt to spread the narrative of Tibetans supporting the work of the Chinese government up to the point of sacrificing their lives, without any verifiable information about the cause of this person’s death or any explanation about why he was ‘overworking’ and whether that was his voluntary choice.”
Both the incidents of reopening sites and the death of the Tibetan volunteer from Kardze seem to enhance China’s narrative of strength while aiming at tourism. With the rise of pandemic victims all across the globe, China insists on reopening sites for the public which will put the most vulnerable residents and locals at risk.