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Did you know why China shuts Tibet for foreigners? Hint: it’s not about media freedom


Washington, Oct 13: Did you ever consider that there could be some other reason behind China's stance of not allowing foreign journalists and scholars to Tibet, a sensitive region? We mostly thought that Beijing did not allow foreigners to enter the region because it is against right to free speech and did not want the outer world get any opportunity to accuse it of trampling the voice of the Tibetans.

Did you know why China shuts Tibet for foreigners? Hint: it’s not about media freedom

However, China's Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai recently revealed the actual reason why his country obstructs the entry of foreign journalists and scholars to Tibet. He told the actual reason to Steve Inskeep in an interview to Washington-based National Public Radio.

Tiankai was asked questions on a number of issues and when he was asked whether China would encourage greater openness if American scholars and journalists wanted to visit a sensitive region like Tibet, the former came up with an answer not many of us expected.

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He said China is open to American students, professors, journalists or scholars but in case of Tibet, it is because of the high altitude and the climate that stops it from becoming that welcoming.

When Inskeep told the diplomat that American journalists and scholars could handle the challenge since the US also has high altitude in many of its places, Tiankai was ready with the following explanation:

"Well, not everybody could quickly get used to such climate and natural conditions. Even for Chinese. Many of them would not feel very well once they are there. And also the local, we have to protect the local environment. We should have some limit on the number of people outside visitors every year. Otherwise the burden on the environment will be too heavy. So we have to take care of all these things. If we can take good care of all these things we certainly welcome American visitors to go there. I understand for the last few American ambassadors, all of them visited Tibet. We are now working for the visit by Ambassador Branstad."

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China's imposing travel restrictions on outsiders to visit Tibet had little to do with altitude of the Tibetan Plateau after protests broke out against Beijing's control in 2011. The Chinese government sought to ensure that all foreigners trying to enter Tibet be part of organised tours and for journalists, getting an approved travel is next to impossible. China also shuts certain areas of Tibet and the neighbouring Qinghai and Sichuan for foreigners at times without any notice. In march every year, the entire region is blocked from access owing to the anniversary of the 2008 unrest which saw dead riots in Lhasa and a brutal suppression by the Chinese state.

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