China has tightened restrictions on travel by foreigners in the Himalayan region of Tibet after five Americans unfurled a banner at the foot of Mount Everest to protest against the staging of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing because of the occupancy of Tibet.
An official with the state-run China Travel Service said in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, who could perhaps learn some PR with advantage, said, ‘We can’t let foreign tourists just go anywhere by themselves.’
Foreigners are also no longer allowed to apply for a permit to enter the region from the office of the Tibetan travel bureau in the southwestern city of Chengdu, from where there are direct flights to Lhasa. All travel must be approved by the head office in Lhasa.
The official said: ‘Management is tighter because of the Americans on Everest.’
Their protest may have been made with good intentions but the results could be the opposite of what was intended.
Some background. In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army invaded the Tibetan area of Chamdo and there was little resistance from the Tibetan army. In 1951, the Tibetan representatives signed a seventeen-point agreement with the PRC’s Central People’s Government affirming China’s sovereignty over Tibet. The agreement was ratified in Lhasa a few months later.
Was this invasion — and it was an invasion — justified? The argument is that much of the population of Tibet at that time were serfs often bound to land owned by monasteries and aristocrats.
Tibetans in exile state these were a very small part of Tibetan society and, anyway, Tibet would have modernized itself without China’s intervention.
There was a revolution in Amdo and eastern Kham (two outlying parts of Tibet which were administered separately by China) in June 1956. This insurrection, was supported by the American CIA, and therefore doomed. It was crushed by 1959.
The 14th Dalai Lama and other government principals fled to exile in India, but isolated resistance continued in Tibet until 1969 when the CIA, realising it was on a loser, packed up its tents and vanished.
The China occupancy of Tibet has at least two sides and it is very, very rare to find someone who actually knows what happened.
Now these five protesters have taken us back to the restrictions of the early 1990s, when the entire region was effectively closed off to foreigners, except for a very small number of officially organised tour groups.
There has been a gradual easing of the travel limits over the past few years, although Tibet remains the only region of China for which all foreign tourists must obtain a permit to gain entry.
The five Americans unfurled a banner reading ‘One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008’ which is a play on the official slogan of the Games, ‘One World, One Dream’. The five were detained by police and then expelled.
Robert Barnett, a Tibet expert at Columbia University, said, ‘I think that the issue with these US students was not so much that they staged a protest in Tibet, but that they staged it in the middle of a rehearsal for the Olympic ceremonies. The fear of embarrassment during the Olympics seems to be increasingly a paramount concern for PRC Chinese officials.’
Source: The Times