interview on a number of different subjects including why foreign journalists and scholars are not allowed access to Tibet.ui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the US, recently sat down with NPR’s Steve Inskeep for a wide-ranging
Here’s the transcript:
Would you encourage greater openness going the other way? If American scholars who may have controversial opinions want to visit China, if American journalists want to go to sensitive areas like Tibet. Would you encourage greater openness on China’s part?
You see, we are open to American students, professors, journalists or scholars. Of course, for some other places like Tibet because it’s very high altitude and the climate could be very tough there.
Very high altitude?
I think American journalists and scholars can handle the altitude. I mean, we have high altitudes in the United States.
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.
When Inskeep follows up by asking Cui if he would also welcome Branstad to the region of Xinjiang, Cui says that the problem there is not altitude, but terrorism, asserting that while all of China is “open to the rest of the world,” that region has a “particular problem” with violent extremist groups trying to “create a situation like ISIS.”
Inskeep then presses Cui on reports that hundreds of thousands of local Uighurs have been put into re-education camps in Xinjiang, to which Cui would only say that people are being educated with “skills to catch up with the technological advance today,” so that they will “be able to build a better life.”
Of course, China’s travel restrictions on visitors to Tibet really have nothing to do with the altitude of the Tibetan Plateau. Following a wave of protests and self-immolations in Tibet against Chinese rule in 2011, the Chinese government began requiring that all foreigners trying to enter Tibet be part of organized tours and acquire special travel permits. For journalists, approved travel is nearly impossible.
In addition, certain areas of Tibet and neighboring areas of Qinghai and Sichuan are sometimes closed to foreigners without notice or explanation. Each March, the whole region is typically off limits due to it being the anniversary of the 2008 unrest in Tibet, which saw deadly riots erupt on the streets of Lhasa that were harshly suppressed by Chinese police.