A Chinese government official says that when the Dalai Lama dies, it will trigger small shock waves in Tibet but won't result in serious instability.
Former Tibet Gov. Qiangba Puncog told reporters in Beijing that the exiled spiritual leader still has religious clout but no political influence in China.
Puncog said Tibetans want the region to remain stable and that the Chinese government is committed to that goal.
Chinese travel agents organizing trips to Tibet said they have been ordered not to receive foreign visitors around the March 14 anniversary of a bloody anti-government riot in 2008.
The top Chinese government official for Tibet confirmed there were restrictions but said they were being enforced for safety reasons, citing possible overcrowding and the bitterly cold winter weather.
Beijing Youth Travel Service saleswoman Li Jianyue said the order was conveyed verbally, as is often the case with official directives that the government does not wish to defend or explain.
"A few days ago, they told us not to organize the foreign groups this month," Li said.
Liu Qiang, a sales manager at Kangqu International Travel Agent in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, said his company was notified of the measure in January.
Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party head for the Tibetan region, told reporters at a briefing on the sidelines of the annual legislative session in Beijing that the regional government "had taken some control measures this year" to limit the number of visitors allowed into Tibet. He didn't say how long the rules would be in force.
"Except for a few cases and locations, the restrictions on foreign (tourists to Tibet) have been imposed according to government regulations, and Tibet's capacity to receive tourists, and other factors such as climate and security," Zhang said.
He said that since the riots in 2008, the overall situation in Tibet has been stable.
"It's not that the anti-Chinese forces and the Dalai clique haven't thought of it, but the fact is they haven't been able to stir up any unrest since the March 14 (2008) incident," Zhang said.
China blamed followers of Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama for fomenting the 2008 violence, a charge the Buddhist leader denies.
Hotel receptionists reached by phone in Lhasa on Monday also said foreigners were barred from the beginning of the month. The receptionists and the travel agents said the impact would be minimal since the Himalayan region's bitter winter tends to make March a low season for tourism.
However, a receptionist at the Jardin Secret Hotel in Lhasa said the ban could last for up to three months.
"This has grown into a yearly practice around March 14 every year," said the woman, who would give only her surname, Dong, to avoid drawing the ire of authorities.
China strictly limits access by foreigners to Tibet, requiring them to obtain special permits in addition to their Chinese visas and to travel in tour groups.
Tourists from outside the country were banned entirely for more than a year following the 2008 riots in Lhasa that killed at least 22 people and set off a wave of protests across Tibetan areas of western China.
China responded with a massive military crackdown in which Tibetan rights groups say nearly 140 Tibetans were killed.
China says Tibet has been part of its territory for at least centuries, while many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that time.