Chinese tourism officials said yesterday that foreigners have been barred from a county in northwestern China, with activists saying security in the area has been stepped up ahead of an expected visit by a government-appointed Tibetan religious leader.
The Panchen Lama is the second-ranked religious leader to Tibetans, after the Dalai Lama. However, Tibetans generally do not accept this Panchen Lama because he was appointed by Beijing, while the original boy was selected by the Dalai Lama in 1995, but has not been heard from since.
The activist group International Campaign for Tibet said security has been increased near the Labrang Monastery ahead of the Panchen Lama’s visit in the coming days.
Hotels in Xiahe County in Gansu Province near the monastery said they were instructed this week not to accept foreign visitors. Parts of Gansu are heavily populated with Tibetans and were part of a traditional Tibetan region before modern China was formed.
“We received notices from the county public security bureau and tourism bureau saying that we should not receive foreign guests in our hotel,” said a receptionist at the Labrang Minhang Hotel, who would not give her name.
Foreigners who were staying in Xiahe before the ban were asked to leave, according to an official from the Xiahe County Tourism Bureau, who would give only her surname, Li.
The Panchem Lama’s visit to the Labrang Monastery could signal a move by Beijing to boost his credibility among Tibetans, but the Washington-based activist group International Campaign for Tibet said the monks fear more repression and patriotic education.
Questions about his support among average Tibetans have been raised because he was not the original pick to be Panchen Lama and because of concerns about what happened to the child he replaced.
Tibet’s governor, Padma Choling, said last year that Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the original Panchen Lama chosen by the Dalai Lama, was in good condition and living with his family in the Himalayan region and that he did not want to be disturbed.
The dispute over the Panchen Lama has also raised questions about what will happen when the Dalai Lama, 76, dies.
China has left little doubt that it intends to be deeply involved in choosing the Dalai Lama’s successor, ridiculing his scenarios and insisting that religious law requires the reincarnation be born in a Tibetan area under Chinese control.
The Dalai Lama says it is possible his successor could come from outside China.
The Labrang Monastery is one of the most important monasteries outside of Tibet and has been home to numerous protests by monks following deadly ethnic riots in Tibet in 2008.
China responded to the unrest with a massive military crackdown in which Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed. Tourists from outside the country were banned from the entire region for more than a year.
China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries and that Beijing’s control is draining Tibetan culture.