A hot air balloon bearing the Tibetan flag has taken to the air in Bristol as Chinese officials refused to confirm or deny they were behind attempts to ban it.
The Guardian reported earlier this week claims that organisers of balloon festivals across Europe had been warned of Chinaâs objections to allowing participation of the British-based Tibet balloon called Tashi â Tibetan for âgood fortuneâ â at international events.
Organisers of balloon events in Spain, France and of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta at which the balloon flew on Friday morning, claimed to have been approached by individuals purporting to be Chinese embassy officials urging a ban on the balloon.
In Bristol, one member of the organising committee was emailed by an individual claiming to be the third secretary in the political section of the Chinese embassy in London, stressing China did not want the event to be used as a platform for Tibet separatist activities, that Tibet was an âinalienableâ part of China, and requested serious consideration be given to ban it in the name of Sino-British relations.
The balloon, which is funded by private sponsors and was designed in close cooperation with UK Tibetan community representatives, is flying at the festival which runs until Sunday.
Responding to a request from the Guardian to confirm such an official approach took place, the Chinese embassy said in a statement: âTibet is an inalienable part of the Peopleâs Republic of China, and China has sovereignty over Tibet.
âThis is a position upheld by all countries in the world including the UK government. China is firmly opposed to any political activity for âTibet independenceâ.â
The balloonâs supporters maintain that their aim is to highlight the issue of autonomy for Tibetans and not full independence from China.
Co-pilots of the balloon, Paul Dopson, 45, and his wife, Heaven Crawley, 44, from Stroud, Gloucestershire, said the balloon bore no text, no political message, was simply a depiction of the Tibet flag and was being flown to symbolise peace and compassion. They hope it will draw attention to Tibetan issues and raise funds for charities working to support the cause of Tibet.
Since its official launch in Spain on 11 July, its movement has apparently been fastidiously tracked.
The couple told the Guardian they were informed by organisers of the European Balloon Festival in Igualada in Catalonia, Spain, that officials, claiming to be from the Chinese consular offices in Barcelona had been in contact. The balloon was not due to fly, though it was in Spain at the time.
Last week, the balloon took part in the Lorraine Mondial air balloon festival in Chamblery-Bussieres, north-eastern France, after organiser Philippe Buron-Pilatre authorised its participation despite what he said were approaches from officials at the Chinese consul in Strasbourg warning it would damage French-Chinese relations.