China pledges easier access to Tibet for foreign tourists after US pressure

  • Visitor numbers to increase while waiting times for permits will be halved
  • Announcement comes weeks after new US law demanding easier access for American officials and journalists
PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 2:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 4:10pm

The Chinese government in Tibet has said it will boost numbers and cut waiting times for foreign tourists visiting the highly restricted region, following renewed pressure from the United States.

US President Donald Trump signed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act in December, demanding easier access for American officials and journalists.

Beijing denounced the law at the time as interference in China’s internal affairs, saying it risked “serious harm” to ties with Washington.

China and the US are trying to hammer out a deal to end their festering trade dispute which has threatened to sour the relationship across the board, including on issues such as security, influence and human rights.

Beijing slams US legislation demanding easier access to Tibet for American journalists, tourists

Qizhala, chairman of the regional Tibetan government, said in an annual work report published by the official Tibet Daily on Friday that visitor numbers would be increased by 50 per cent and waiting times for permits would be halved.

Non-Chinese visitors must apply for special permits to travel to the remote, mountainous region. These are usually granted for tourists, provided they travel with approved tour companies, but rarely for journalists and diplomats.

Qizhala also pledged that the government in Tibet would “take a clear-cut stance in the fight against the Dalai clique”, a reference to exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

“We must improve the monastery management and service mechanisms to defend the bottom line of Tibetan Buddhism not being manipulated by foreign forces,” he said, and management of religious activities must prevent another “upsurge” of religion.

China has a lot to celebrate in 2019, but it also has old wounds to heal

Beijing has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since Communist Party troops marched into the region in 1950 in what it terms a “peaceful liberation”.

Rights groups and overseas activists say ethnic Tibetans face widespread restrictions under Chinese rule and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in June conditions were “fast deteriorating”.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of a Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Supporters of Tibetan independence and of the Dalai Lama have staged protests in the past to mark the uprising’s anniversary, which have angered China.

China views the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s Buddhist spiritual leader who fled into exile in India after the failed uprising, as a dangerous separatist.