Tourism, one of Tibet’s main economic activities, has virtually collapsed since last year’s bloody crackdown and the tight police control that ensued. For months afterwards the authorities kept the country off-limits to outsiders fearful of the stories of abuses against monks and ordinary Tibetans the latter might report.
Tourism from China proper has virtually collapsed with only a trickle of foreign visitors still making the trek. The impact of the economic slump has been felt by both Tibetans and Han and Hui settlers whose arrival has been favoured by the government.
Ethnic Han Chinese were especially targeted in last year’s protests as the symbol of the Chinese government’s genocidal policies vis-à-vis the indigenous population because of the privileges they received in order to immigrate to the area.
The divide between the two groups has thus become wider. Han merchants and shopkeepers are now getting the silent treatment from Tibetans, losing their custom as the latter now prefer to buy at shops owned by fellow Tibetans. Some local Han Chinese, who still remember how they had to hide for days during the unrest, are even planning to pack up and leave.
In the meantime police has tightened controls and is back arresting Tibetans, sending away many of those from outlying areas who had settled in Lhasa without papers.
In response to the situation many Tibetans are boycotting their traditional New Year celebrations, which falls around February 25. Many stores are thus empty for lack of buyers.
Only the local government is saying that Tibet's economy is doing well with 10.1 per cent growth over last year, aided largely by a fix of public funds. And for Lekchok, the No 2 Communist Party official of the region, the worst is over.
Yet the railway to Lhasa, inaugurated two years ago amidst great fanfare, has seen traffic decline and this despite the fact that companies in Tibet offer salaries that are more than twice what skilled workers can get elsewhere. Here graduates can in fact get 2,400 yuan (US$ 350) a month, whilst in not so far-away Chengdu they would only earn 1,000 yuan.
With a situation that is still tense the Dalai Lama, who is visiting the German city of Baden-Baden, warned that at present “there is too much anger. At any moment, an outburst could happen,” adding that with “more uprising, there will be more crackdowns.”