Tourists from Taiwan are being refused entry into Tibet amid worsening tensions with mainland China following a phone call between the island's president and Donald Trump, they told RFA on Thursday.
Several Taiwan travel agencies said that their customers are no longer being issued with the necessary entry permits into the Himalayan region.
"In order to enter Tibet, visitors from Taiwan must apply for a permission letter to enter Tibet," an employee at one of the travel agencies said.
"We have sent two tour groups there this month, but neither has been approved for the letter," the employee said.
"They haven't given us a direct response regarding the reason for this, but we can't take any more bookings now."
She said Hong Kong residents, who are Chinese citizens, are able to visit Tibet without the letter, if they have a permit to cross the internal immigration border to mainland China.
"I think you can get into most other places with a Taiwan Compatriot Card without any problems," she said, referring to the Permit for Taiwan Residents Visiting the Mainland that is issued to Taiwan tourists via their travel agencies.
An employee at a second travel agency said their groups had run into similar difficulties.
"We have been affected by this too," the employee said. "We aren't taking tour groups to Tibet any more."
"The mainland has suddenly refused to accept our applications any more," she said. "They don't always give us a clear reason."
"It's the same whether you go with a tour group or as an individual traveler," she said.
Permission letter required
An employee who answered the phone at a hotel in Tibet said nobody is allowed into the region without an additional permit, known as the "permission letter to enter Tibet."
"If you don't have that letter, then I'm afraid we can't accept your booking," the employee said.
And a Tibetan travel agency employee confirmed that the situation has changed.
"It's not just our company; and it certainly wasn't our company's decision," the employee said. "But we have received notification to this effect."
Taiwan's 23 million people have never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, but they travel to mainland China under special permits that describe the democratic island as a province of China.
The barring of travel by Taiwanese tour groups to Tibet comes soon after the island's president Tsai Ing-wen made a congratulatory phone call to U.S. president-elect Trump, riling Beijing, which is warning that bilateral ties with Washington could be jeopardized.
Trump also questioned the one-China policy, which forbids China's diplomatic partners from maintaining diplomatic ties with Taipei, saying it could potentially be used as a bargaining counter on trade issues.
'One China' or nothing
His comments came after four decades of consensus between Beijing and Washington that Taiwan, where the defeated Kuomintang nationalist government fled after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949, is part of a single, Chinese territory, but currently under a different government.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang warned that countries that don't exclude Taiwan can't have diplomatic links with Beijing.
"Adhering to the one-China policy is the prerequisite and basis on which China develops relations of friendly cooperation with any countries in the world," Geng told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
"There is only one China in the world and Taiwan is a part of China, and the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate government that represents China," he said.
Ties with Taiwan have soured since Tsai's election victory earlier this year after she failed to endorse a 1992 agreement recognizing that Taiwan is merely a part of China currently being ruled by a different government.
Her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which swept to power earlier this year amid fears of growing Chinese influence over Taiwan under her predecessor Ma Ying-jeou, still has a staunchly pro-independence wing, in spite of repeated warnings of military intervention from Beijing.
Hu Ping, the New York-based editor of the Chinese-language monthly Beijing Spring, said Trump's phone call with Tsai and his subsequent comments on the one-China policy has provoked a "strong reaction" in Chinese political circles.
"Trump's phone call with Tsai Ing-wen changed a long-term precedent in the U.S.-China relationship," he said. "I think we will continue to see further developments on this issue."
"It's likely that a hard-line policy on Trump's part will leave [Chinese president] Xi Jinping at a loss," Hu said.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xi Wang for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.