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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

The Obscenity of Tibet Tourism

July 6, 2009

July 4, 2009 -

The equation is simple, visiting Tibet as a tourist does not in any
meaningful way benefit the Tibetan people, it may well be a wonderfully
exotic personal experience, one that draws the admiring attention of friends
and family, but it does not service Tibet or its culture.

There was a time when those considering a trip to the region could ease any
prangs of conscience, about entering a nation under oppressive occupation,
by drawing comfort from the views of the Dalai Lama, who has advocated
tourism to Tibet, on the basis that people could see for themselves the
situation. That may well have had some arguable credence in the late 1980s
and 1990s when there was less global awareness and understanding of the
situation inside Tibet. Since that period however the nature and degree of
cultural erosion and suppression waged upon Tibet has become common
knowledge, the Internet, mobile technology, and the courageous efforts of
Tibetans have enabled a fuller exposure of life inside 'Prison-Tibet'. News
of political protests, arrests, instances of torture, arrest and killings
are reported almost immediately, freely accessible to anyone with access to
a computer.

Today those making the journey to Tibet do so in full knowledge that they
are visiting a culture facing annihilation, a people denied civil, political
and religious freedoms and exposed to a harrowing range of human rights
abuses, including the forcible sterilisation of Tibetan women. Of course not
all visiting Tibet are moved by issues of human rights and justice for
Tibetans, the motivation is more based upon personal gratification, a chance
to experience the mysterious and satisfy some sense of the curious. All
understandable qualities of course, however it's the human and political
context that operates inside Tibet which raise serious questions as to the
ethics of visiting a nation under the draconian grip of a totalitarian
regime. Would those happy to photograph Tibetans in prostration in front of
the Jokhang in Lhasa have been comfortable with a guided tour of Cape Town
during the height of Apartheid in South Africa?

Yet a powerful form of myopia appears to descend upon those who choose to
see Tibet, not as a region under oppressive siege, but as an ultimate
'Shangri-la' destination, seems the mountains and turquoise skies disable
any sense of ethical responsibility. Apart from this worrying abdication of
moral awareness, in pursuit of personal adventure and satisfaction, those
who visit Tibet should be aware that in so doing they are supporting an
increasingly dominant Chinese presence. While there may be limited and
isolated financial gain for a few Tibetans, the overwhelming beneficiary are
those Chinese businesses which proliferate in the Tibetan capital and other
towns such as Shigatse. Nearly all related enterprises, transport,
tour-services, hotels and restaurants are Chinese controlled or owned, the
tourist dollar misses ordinary Tibetans almost entirely and finances those
who exploit Tibetan culture for profit.

The tourist to Tibet also furnishes the communist Chinese regime with
political support, by choosing to visit she or he is declaring that they are
insufficently concerned with human rights issues or the occupation of Tibet
to deter them. Moreover, in agreeing and complying to the suffocating
constraints imposed upon visitors they are in effect endorsing China's
control over Tibet. Yet by conforming to such controls they expose
themselves to a stage-managed propaganda view of Tibet, one carefully
engineered to plant the thought that all is well under Chinese occupation.
Take the comments of Mark Niew, Australian freelance writer, whose tourist
trip was eagerly exploited by China's Ministry of Propaganda Xinhua

"I watched monks chanting and local people coming to pray. They wore
traditional clothes, prayed and visited temples seemingly of their own free
will. Although I do not understand their language, I was moved by the

What a tragedy that tourists such as this have no chance to explore the
reality beyond the cosmetic deceptions on display. However, with little
opportunity to communicate directly with Tibetans, under the ever watchful
scrutiny of Chinese security, tourists to Tibet are allowed an illusory and
selective perspective, designed to reinforce the disinformation of progress
and stability inside Tibet. As a part of that propaganda drive last week
China revealed plans to launch direct flights from Beijing to Lhasa, so
increasing tourism potential and making it easier for foreigners to make
that formerly arduous journey. The benefits of such a development will
certainly not be the people of Tibet, who are increasingly exploited as a
tourist curiosity in their own nation, oppressed and abused beyond the
camcorder intrusions of thrill-seeking tourists.
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