Chinese authorities in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province are reopening tourist sites, causing local Tibetans to worry about a second wave of COVID-19 coming into the region amid the ongoing pandemic with a decision activist say is premature.
Sites like the Chaksam Kha monastery in Kardze reopened on Friday according to a Chinese tour company, with an upper limit of 4,000 visitors per day. The tour company announced that day that medical professionals who were at the forefront of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus would be given free admission to the sites.
Sources in the area told RFA that reopening the sites is an effort by the Chinese government to project a return to normalcy and to generate revenue at a time when the Chinese economy faces possible recession as the virus continues to spread.
The government claims that every confirmed case in the prefecture has recovered and visiting the tourist areas is now safe.
A Tibetan living in Dartsedo (Kangding) told RFA’s Tibetan Service that local residents are still taking every precaution when venturing outside their homes.
“We are still scared of the virus. We have self-quarantined and hardly go out, and if we do, we wear facemasks,” the source said.
“But now that they are reopening the tourist sites in Kardze, hundreds of [Han] Chinese visitors are coming into our area every day,” added the source.
“It is very concerning because just one of those tourists can start the spread the coronavirus here again.”
The source said that the decision was made to help out the Chinese tourism industry, not Tibetan locals.
“Tourism income goes to the government-run tour companies and operators. It has no bearing and little relevance to the livelihoods of ordinary people, except of course that the tourists will leave behind mountains of trash like they always do, which is harmful to the environment.”
Another Tibetan source in Kardze told RFA, “All the tourists are [Han] Chinese. We know that the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, so how can they guarantee there won’t be another wave of infection? We are so worried.”
A third Tibetan source told RFA, “As soon as the Chinese put forward the claim that coronavirus has subsided here, the tour operators were in such a hurry to make money that everyone is overlooking and disregarding the health, safety and security of the local people.”
A Tibetan activist told RFA that there were still many unanswered questions about the death of a cadre who had perished while working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Tibet.
Azi Lhundup (Azhen Nengzhou) was found dead March 15 in a waiting room at the Sichuan provice Hongyan No.1 Police Station, where he was an official, according to Chinese state media.
The 30-year-old from Khyungchu (Hongyuan) county had been deployed in the fight against COVID-19 in a Tibetan area of Sichuan.
“On the day before his death, he had been working continuously for 24 hours,” said the Beijing News, a Chinese-language stare-owned newspaper.
“The reporting of Azi Lhundup’s death appears to be an attempt by China to present a Tibetan poster boy for the campaign against coronavirus,” Bhunchung Tsering from International Campaign for Tibet told RFA.
“Months after the eruption of the pandemic, Chinese authorities have yet to provide figures for the number of Tibetan casualties. Despite this, official Chinese media reported in detail about Azi Lhundup’s Tibetan nationality and his membership in the Chinese Communist Party,” the activist said.
“This seems to be an attempt to spread the narrative of Tibetans supporting the work of the Chinese government up to the point of sacrificing their lives, without any verifiable information about the cause of this person’s death or any explanation about why he was ‘overworking’ and whether that was his voluntary choice.”
Reported by Guru Choegyi and Tashi Wangchuck for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Eugene Whong.