China has reopened Tibet to foreign tourists, state media said yesterday, almost two months after imposing a ban ahead of politically sensitive anniversaries.
A group of 11 German travelers arrived in the regional capital of Lhasa late on Saturday, the Xinhua news agency said. The group was on a six-day tour that would take them to a number of “key scenic spots” before leaving for Nepal, Xinhua said.
China requires foreigners to obtain special permission to visit Tibet and routinely bars them from all Tibetan areas of the country during sensitive periods to keep news of unrest from leaking out.
The latest travel ban on foreigners came in February and last month because of the Tibetan New Year and anniversaries of Tibetan uprisings against Chinese rule. A man who answered the telephone at the Lhasa tourism bureau said he had not heard the news about the visitors.
Foreign visitors also were not allowed in ethnically Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces. Telephones at government offices and tourism bureaus in those areas were not answered yesterday.
The China Daily newspaper published a photo of what appeared to be a group of foreign travelers in brightly colored windbreakers carrying hand luggage.
“German tourists arrived at the railway station in Lhasa,” read the caption on the paper’s Web site yesterday.
Xinhua said that more than 500 foreign tourists were expected to visit Tibet this month but did not give any details.
State media quoted officials as saying that travel was suspended to protect visitors. Authorities, wary of potential unrest, placed the region under de facto martial law, with troops, police patrols and checkpoints blanketing the area.
Despite small pockets of protests — mostly by monks — the period went by without any apparent major disturbances.
The Tibetan New Year, which began on Feb. 25, was subdued because of an unofficial boycott of festivities by Tibetans mourning those who died last spring in anti-government riots in Lhasa and Beijing’s subsequent crackdown.
Chinese officials say 22 people died, but Tibetans say many times more were killed in the March 14 violence, which sparked protests in Tibetan communities in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai.
Another potentially explosive date was March 10, which marked the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan rebellion against Chinese rule that resulted in the exile of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s Buddhist leader.
This year, Beijing also sought to commemorate the imposition of direct rule over the Himalayan region with a newly manufactured holiday crowned “Serf Liberation Day” on March 28. It marks the date when Beijing ended the 1959 Tibetan uprising.