China closes Tibet once again

China has once again closed off the borders of Tibet to foreign travelers ahead of the October 1st holiday celebrating 60 years of Communist rule. According to this story from the Associated Press, the travel ban went into effect on Tuesday and is expected to last at least until the 8th October and is the result of fears of protests and demonstrations in the Himalayan state. The article says that while no new visitors are being allowed in, travelers already in Tibet have been allowed to stay.

Besides shutting down the borders, security has also been increased across the country, particularly in the larger urban centers such as Lhasa. These measures have become common place in recent months, starting with a crackdown in March of 2008, following a series of riots, that left the country shut off to the rest of the world for months. The Chinese claim that 22 people were killed during that incident, but Tibetan nationals claim that that number is in the hundreds. Beijing made the same move in February of this year out of fears of further protests around the 50th anniversary of the exile of the Dalai Lama.

The economic impact of shutting down the borders is felt directly by the Tibetan people, many of whom make their living in the tourist trade. Autumn is traditionally the second busiest time of the year for tourism in Tibet, with trekkers and mountaineers visiting the country following the departure of the summer monsoon. According to the AP story, the effects are already being felt, with foreign visitors to local hotels already down 20%-30%.

Hopefully the October 1st holiday comes and goes without incident and the borders reopen on schedule on the 8th.