June 16, 2011 / 11:31 AM / 9 years ago

China closes Tibet to foreigners ahead of anniversary

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has closed Tibet to foreigners ahead of the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1, travel agents said on Thursday of a region where many ethnic Tibetans have chafed under Chinese rule.

China, sensitive to instability or any other perceived threat to one-party rule, is wary of foreigners in its ethnic minority border areas, which it calls “autonomous regions,” especially ahead of politically charged anniversaries.

“It’s a new rule because of the 90th anniversary celebration,” a travel agent at a major Western hotel in Tibet’s capital Lhasa told Reuters, requesting anonymity. “Even with a tour group, foreigners cannot come.”

A Beijing-based travel agency said it was notified months ago that foreigners would not be allowed in Tibet during July but hoped that the restriction would be eased in time for important Tibetan festivals in August.

“We had to make a lot of cancellations, but we don’t know the reasons behind it. Perhaps it has to do with something political,” the Beijing-based travel agent said by telephone.

“We are disappointed because we lost a lot of money. We just have to tell clients we are sorry.”

In May, Beijing told foreigners not to sow unrest in its vast northern region of Inner Mongolia, after rare protests by ethnic Mongolians sparked by the hit-and-run death of a herder garnered international attention.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu has said people overseas had an “ulterior motive” and were trying to use the incident “to cause trouble.”

Foreigners always need permission to travel to Tibet, but the government periodically places Tibetan areas out of bounds.

In April, it banned foreigners from ethnically Tibetan parts of neighbouring Sichuan province, where exiled Tibetans and activists say authorities locked down a Tibetan Buddhist monastery after a young monk burnt himself to death.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular briefing that he “had no understanding” of the ban.

Many Tibetans chafe at Beijing’s rule amid fears of an influx of Han Chinese diluting the Tibetan population.

But Tibet’s Chinese-appointed governor, Padma Choling, pointing to 18 years of double-digit economic growth ahead of the 60th anniversary of Chinese rule over the region last month, said that Chinese rule had rescued Tibet from thousands of years of feudal serfdom.

Chinese troops marched into Tibet in 1950 and the Himalayan’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to India nine years later after a failed uprising.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim and Nick Macfie

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