Friday, February 13, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Tibet is Closed Foreigners


Well, it became official just a few hours ago. Tibet is closed. I love this cat and mouse game that the government continues to play. Can you image just closing off a territory the size of western Europe?

I was planning on heading out to western Sichuan in the latter half of February to document the Monlam festival, or the Tibetan New Year festival, until I had my guide and driver basically tell me that he wasn't allowed to take foreign tourists there.

March 10th marks the 50th anniversary of the flight of the Dali Lama from Tibet, and while there will be protests in Katmandu and parts of India my guess is that Lhasa will be calm and quiet; it's hard to stage a protest when everyone is already in jail.

Mental note: Trip to Lhasa at some stage this year. Haven't been since 2005 and I'm keen to see what's become of the place.

BEIJING (AP) — Swaths of western China that have large Tibetan populations have been declared off limits to foreign visitors, local officials confirmed Thursday, ahead of the politically sensitive 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising.

An official at the tourism office of northwestern Gansu province's Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which is home to a major monastery and large Tibetan communities, said the region was again closed to foreigners and would not be open until late March. The official, who did not identify himself, as is common in China, did not say when the restrictions were put in place.

March 10 marks the 50th anniversary of a failed rebellion in Tibet against Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee into exile in India after the uprising was crushed.

Last year, protests to mark the anniversary spun out of control, with deadly riots breaking out in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

The Chinese government says 22 people died in the riots, but Tibetan advocates say many times that number were killed in the protests and subsequent crackdown.

Sympathy protests quickly spread outside Tibet to neighboring provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai, which all have large ethnic Tibetan communities. However, they were quelled by a huge military presence installed in the area.

Tibet itself has always been off-limits to the international media unless special permits are obtained. China did put on a rare and tightly controlled tour of Tibet this week for some foreign reporters. Several organizations, including The Associated Press, were excluded.

In Sichuan province, many areas open two weeks ago are now closed to foreign tourists until April, according to officials at the Ganzi prefecture tourist bureau. Only three counties in that prefecture will remain open to foreigners. Qinghai province has also closed many areas to foreigners.

On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu described the current situation in Tibet as "stable" but acknowledged that foreign reporters have had difficulty accessing the area.

"Since the March 14 incident, it's true that foreign journalists find it harder to go to Tibet. I think you all know the reasons. The government has taken some measures," she said.

Several journalists have reported being expelled from Tibetan-populated areas in China in the past week.


Ryan Pyle


  1. Oh,my god. I just booked my March tour with Access Tibet Tour. I didn't even know anything about it. Access Tibet Tour told me that he could get Tibet travel permit.

  2. James,

    I would double check with the tour group. The report seems to indicate that there has been a recent change in government attitudes and a full lockdown is going to be carried out effectively immediately. Tour companies should have some kind of contingency plan for these situation.




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