Foreign tourists can once again visit Tibet, the region Beijing closed in March after battling the worst unrest against Chinese rule in 20 years.
The ban was lifted on Wednesday, soon before Beijing will host approximately half a million visitors and athletes from across the world for the summer Olympics in August. As the countdown to August 8 nears, Beijing is eager to thwart international criticism for its crackdown on Tibet, the severe visa and security restrictions imposed since April in Olympic host cities.
Beijing holds the Dalai Lama responsible for instigating the riots in order to sabotage the Olympics, a charge he denies. Facing international pressure to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, who is Tibet's spiritual leader, Beijing held a round of talks with his envoys in Shenzhen in May.
China announced the decision that Tibet is now safe for all foreigners soon after a heavily guarded Olympic torch relay through Lhasa, Tibet's capital.
"The success of the Olympic torch relay held three days ago in Lhasa demonstrated that the foundation for social stability has been further consolidated," Tanor, Deputy Director of the Tibet Autonomous Regional Bureau of Tourism reportedly said to Xinhua, China's state-run news agency.
Before the March riots, China had hoped to attract five million domestic and foreign tourist arrivals to the region this year. In 2007, Tibet received four million domestic and overseas travellers, 60 per cent more than the previous year. A railway connecting Tibet to Qinghai in China's mainland opened in July 2006, making the mountainous region's monasteries and traditional culture accessible to tourists.
Two visitors from Sweden and four from Singapore will be the first international arrivals in Tibet this week since the unrest. Domestic tour groups and tourists from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan were permitted in April and May.
Monasteries, schools and businesses have reopened and Tibet's largest travel agency is gearing up to invite more tour groups, according to Xinhua.