BEIJING -- China will invest 400 million yuan ($63.5 million) to develop tourism in southeastern Tibet by building 22 model villages, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.
Xinhua said China plans to make Nyingchi county, 320 kilometers (200 miles) southeast of the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, into an international tourist destination. It is nestled in a region known for its forests, snow-covered mountains, valleys and rivers.
Beijing has for decades tried to expand the Tibetan economy in hopes of winning over ethnic residents, but its heavy-handed rule has drawn criticism. Many Tibetans accuse the government of religious persecution and cultural assimilation – sometimes in the pretext of economic development.
About 40 ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the past year. Since early June, Beijing has not allowed foreign tourists to visit Tibet, although it has not publicly acknowledged the restriction. Chinese authorities periodically close the region to foreigners, usually during periods of unrest.
The ban may have little overall impact on local tourism, because Tibet remains a popular destination for domestic travelers.
Xinhua said authorities will spend 100 million yuan ($15.9 million) over three years in Nyingchi to build 22 model villages where residents can make money by providing family hotel services.
Tibet is partnering with Guangdong province in southern China to develop tourism in Nyingchi. In March, government officials attended a groundbreaking ceremony for one of the model villages and said it will feature Tibetan traditions and preserve nature.