Anybody who doesn't think China exercises extraordinary control and coercion over what happens in Tibet should try coming here with accreditation as a foreign journalist. It makes one radioactive.
Since arriving five days ago, our small group has been the subject of constant surveillance. People we've talked to have been picked up for questioning. One was given an extraordinary fine on trumped up charges. Our attempts to go to Everest Base Camp were stymied on Saturday when an unmarked car coming from Shigatse, in the west, headed us off and people carrying tourism police IDs ordered us to return immediately to Lhasa, where we were told to stay in our hotel rooms.
Foreign journalists are almost never permitted into Tibet except on once-a-year trips organized and monitored by the Foreign Ministry. I requested formal approval to come from a high-level Foreign Ministry official, and was referred to his counterpart in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. No answer. So I came in as a tourist on the train. State security sniffed our little group out immediately.
Since arriving in Tibet, one travel agency has blocked our attempts to go anywhere except an innocuous trip to see some glaciers. A well dressed man, Mr. Chen Yong, who claims to be the agency's manager but has the bearing of a state security official, has offered me lengthy lectures on how I should not talk to any Tibetans because of my status as a "tourist." After ordering our forcible return over the weekend, the agency said we could finally go to Everest on Tuesday. On Monday evening, the agency informed us that our trip was called off. They have retained the traveling papers of one companion, making him temporarily stateless.
We've been warned again to stay in our hotel rooms.
For now, I won't provide more details, of which there are many. I'm still in Tibet. All I wanted to do was go to Everest Base Camp but the State fears that if a couple of accredited journalists manage to get into Tibet, more will certainly follow. And before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China doesn't want the story told of its efforts to flood Tibet with outsiders and exert control over Tibetans.
I will tell more as I can. Wish me luck in my hotel room. One way or another, I don't plan to stay there long.