China to build £3bn theme park in Tibet

2 min read

Authorities in China have begun work on a £3-billion development aimed at luring more tourists to Tibet.

It will see the construction of a theme park, a commercial district and a residential area on the outskirts of Lhasa, the capital of the troubled region, according to Chinese state media.

In an attempt to highlight the historic ties between China and Tibet, the theme park will be dedicated to Princess Wencheng, the niece of a Tang-dynasty emperor who married a Tibetan king. Educational centres dedicated to Tibetan arts and customs have also been proposed.

Ma Xinming, the city’s vice-mayor, said the project would create a “living museum” for Tibetan culture, and relieve pressure on existing attractions in old Lhasa. It will be completed in three to five years, he added.

The vast majority of visitors to Tibet are domestic tourists. Around 8.5 million people visited last year, according to official figures, up by around a quarter compared to 2010. The Chinese government wants to attract 10 million visitors to the region this year, and 15 million a year by 2015.

Last month it announced plans to turn Nyingchi County, a picturesque region around 200 miles southeast of Lhasa, into an international tourist destination.

But its plans are likely to be opposed by many Tibetans, who have accused the Chinese government of religious persecution and cultural assimilation in the name of economic development.

In May two Tibetans set fire to themselves outside Jokhang temple in Lhasa, a Buddhist shrine that receives thousands of visitors each day. Although at least 37 people have carried out similar protests since March last year, it was the first recorded self-immolation attempt in the capital, a popular destination for foreign tourists.

Soon after the incident the Chinese government announced an indefinite ban on foreigners visiting the region. The ban could last until November, according to some reports, and hundreds of British holidaymakers have now been forced to cancel their upcoming trips to the region. One firm, Wendy Wu Tours, has already scrapped all its holidays to the region until at least 2013.

Tony Simon

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