Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have issued a region-wide clampdown on the tourism industry, asking tour guides to monitor the behavior of visitors ahead of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's regional economic cooperation summit next week, RFA has learned.
A manager of a branch of state-owned travel agency China International Travel Service (CITS) in Kashgar (in Chinese, Kashi) prefecture, in the south of Xinjiang, said the industry has been asked to "monitor foreign tourists and report on any sensitive issues" ahead of a conference on President Xi Jinping's "One Belt, One Road" trade and infrastructure project connecting China to Europe.
"Only CITS is permitted to manage foreign tour groups," the manager, who declined to be named, told RFA. "There are some place that are off-limits to foreigners, and some topics of conversation must be avoided."
"We are obliged to report back to the police, not on everything they say, but if somebody won't take no for an answer and insists on asking questions on banned topics, then this will cause a lot of problems [for them]," the manager said.
"These public security measures are for everyone's safety," he said. "The police have a right to know who the tourists are, and where they are going, and we have a duty to report those details to the police."
Among the topics flagged as "potentially troublesome" were foreign media reporting on Xinjiang, and any criticism of Beijing's policies in Xinjiang, he said.
"There are also clear rules for the tour guides, who aren't allowed to say anything that is unfavorable about China," he said. "This has all been a part of their training. They're not allowed to reveal any state secrets ... "They're not allowed to say anything that is damaging to national unity, or ... talk about taboo topics."
Taboo topics include "trying to forcibly impose Western thinking over here," he said, adding: "That's definitely a no-no."
Limited discussions of China's policies in Xinjiang might be permissible, others not, the manager said, but tour guides are advised to find a way to circle around the topic without specifying that there is an official ban in place.
"We can only answer these questions within the limits prescribed by national law," the manager said. "If we can't talk about it, we will tactfully change the subject rather than saying that we're not allowed to talk about it."
Bingtuan tourism industry
The guidelines come after a slew of political activities across the region targeting the tourism sector, and after a set of regulations on April 25 titled "Strengthening security and stability measures in the bingtuan tourism industry," were issued by the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, or bingtuan, which controls huge tracts of Xinjiang.
An official who answered the phone at the Kashgar municipal tourism bureau confirmed the travel agency manager's account.
"They have to be aware of anything to do with religion or ethnic minorities; anything that might potentially damage China's reputation," the official said.
"Such matters must be reported back [to the tourism bureau] who will decide whether to take the matter any further by reporting it to [the police]," he said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress group representing the Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim Uyghur group who call Xinjiang home, said the rules are even stricter for Uyghurs hoping to work in the tourism sector in their own backyard.
"Uyghur tour guides are required to fill out a political appraisal form indicating that there have been no 'separatist actions' in their family for three generations," Raxit told RFA on Friday.
"At the same time, they may undertake monitoring of Uyghur tour guides to ensure that there are no damaging reports or leaks," he said.
Delegates from 28 countries are converging on China ahead of the One Belt, One Road Forum in Beijing on May 14-15, which will promote President Xi Jinping's plan to build a modern-day Silk Road through Asia to Europe.
In a related development, a police officer in Toksun County (Tuokexun, in Chinese) of Turpan (Tulufan) prefecture in Xinjiang said all Uyghur tourists who wish to travel abroad, including self-supported individuals or government-sponsored group tour members, must attend political indoctrination education that covers China’s constitution, anti-extremism legislation and stability maintenance, and bilingual education.
“Right now, the Toksun County government has organized a political indoctrination education entitled the 'three-study course,'" the officer told RFA's Uyghur Service.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Eset Sulaiman for the Uyghur Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.