This is an interesting time to be a foreign correspondent in China. Like dozens of colleagues, I am near the border with Tibet but unable to get in.
I happen to be in Sichuan province. And I’ve been in contact with colleagues who I know are in Gansu and Qinghai provinces, all trying to get a feel for what’s going on among ethnic Tibetans.
It is not easy. We are face some measure of difficulty, trying to outsmart Chinese provincial authorities who would just as soon muzzle the foreign press at times like this.
None of us can enter Tibet, which is off limits to foreign reporters without a permit. I know of only one foreign journalist, James Miles of The Economist, who had the good fortune to be in Lhasa as events unfolded over the past few days.
So the rest of us spread out to neighboring provinces. There are 2.9 million Tibetans living in what is known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region, or for simplicity’s sake Tibet. But a couple million more dwell in adjacent provinces, often living near other minorities or the majority Han Chinese. I’m now in a city with a majority Tibetan population, although I won’t say which one it is.
We foreign reporters all take precautions. We have to switch vehicles often. Some of us swap out SIM cards in our mobile phones, or just turn them off. That way, authorities cannot triangulate mobile phone signals and figure out our locations.
None of us are doing anything illegal. It’s just that it’s very easy for officials in the hinterlands to stop us and ask endless questions, creating delays, or simply bar us from entering areas for unspecified security reasons.
Earlier today, I saw probably 100 or more military trucks on a highway heading to Tibet. I have no idea what they were carrying or if it was a routine caravan. It’s all part of the riddle of trying to decipher what is happening, and what will happen, in Tibet.
I may get stopped in the next 24 hours. But I’ll do my best to wriggle out of it.