Heritage zones in Paracels to Protect relics

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am


Heritage protection zones will be set up along the reefs of the Paracel Islands, Hainan's provincial government said yesterday.

The move follows Beijing's announcement last Thursday that a new city, named Sansha, will administer three island chains in the South China Sea and strengthen China's sovereignty claims.

Hainan's authorities said four heritage protection zones will be set up at North Reef, Discovery Reef, Vuladdore Reef and Crescent Reef in the Paracel Islands, also known as the Xisha Islands on the mainland.

These are part of efforts to step up protection of underwater cultural relics from theft or damage.

The provincial government will work with the public security authorities in enforcing Chinese cultural protection laws.

The waters encompassed by Sansha - which administers the Spratly, Paracel and Macclesfield Bank island chains - comprise key sections of the maritime Silk Road to Guangzhou along the continent's coast, dating back some 2,000 years.

Among researchers' findings include a ship that sunk 800 years ago, as well as ancient porcelain and copper coins.

The Hainan authorities have been searching for and studying cultural relics in the South China Sea since 1996. And they have collected 20,000 relics and located 122 underwater cultural relic sites.

Beijing declared Sansha's establishment last week to help improve 'administrative management' of the three island chains and boost their development.

Li Guoqiang, a South China Sea specialist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Philippines had also sent archaeological research ships to Scarborough Shoal, located between Macclesfield Bank and Luzon Island.

China calls the shoal Huangyan Island, while the Philippines calls it Panatag Shoal.

'There are concerns about whether the underwater relics will be damaged,' Li said.

He said that some cultural relics in the South China Sea had been stolen over the years, and the authorities now wanted to tackle the problem.

Vietnam, which passed a law last week that requires all foreign ships passing through the Paracel and Spratly island chains to notify Vietnamese authorities, has opposed Sansha's establishment.

Hanoi said it had an indisputable legal basis for its sovereignty over the island chains.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said yesterday that Sansha's establishment was within China's sovereign right.