Unesco 'endangered' list for mainland sites denied
World Heritage delegate cites threat to six spots
Unesco and Beijing have denied a mainland media report that the international cultural body was considering putting up to six World Heritage sites in the country on an endangered list, including the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Potala Palace in Lhasa .
But an official with the Ministry of Construction confirmed that the conservation of one of the six sites in the report - the Three Parallel Rivers of the Yunnan Protected Areas - has attracted much attention from the UN's cultural body for the fourth time since its recognition in 2003.
Unesco has voiced grave concerns over Yunnan's controversial proposal to build dams near the heritage site. That would jeopardise the site - which covers a vast area in the upper reaches of the Nu (Salween), Lancang (Mekong) and Jinsha (Yangtze) rivers - it warned.
Quoting a Chinese delegate attending the World Heritage Committee's 10-day annual meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand, Jiangmen Daily in Guangdong said yesterday that six of the mainland's most renowned tourist attractions were likely to be removed from the list.
The two others in danger are the Summer Palace in Beijing and the old town of Lijiang city , in Yunnan.
The managing bodies of the six sites 'will have to answer queries at the meeting about problems in their conservation. If they fail to give a full answer, they are likely to be put on the list of World Heritage in Danger right away', said the delegate, Tan Jinhua , a Guangdong researcher of the Kaiping watchtowers.
The managing group of the towers - which feature a unique blend of eastern and western architectural styles - was waiting to hear whether the towers will become the country's 34th site on the World Heritage List.
Roni Amelan, a press officer with Unesco's bureau of public information, denied the Jiangmen Daily report but would not comment further. He stressed that the purpose of a list of World Heritage in Danger was to garner public attention and mobilise support for better conservation of those sites.
An official from the ministry's office of World Heritage and historic interest areas said five of the six sites probably would not be inscribed on Unesco's endangered list.
'Although I am not aware of the newspaper report, it looks unlikely to be true since China has not been asked to submit written reports on the state of the conservation' except for the Three Parallel Rivers site in Yunnan, said the official, who declined to be named.
He noted that Unesco usually demanded a government report, which would serve as a warning before placing a heritage site on its endangered list.
But he confirmed that the Three Parallel Rivers site, on which Beijing was asked to submit a report early this year, would have to win a round of voting at the meeting tomorrow to keep its World Heritage status.
'The committee will deliberate on China's report, but the site should have no problem to pass the voting,' said the ministry official.
Unesco threatened to take the Yunnan attraction off the list in July amid international concerns over the proposed hydropower project on the Nu River, where up to 13 dams had originally been planned. But it survived after Unesco accepted Beijing's defence that no hydropower project had been approved by the central government and no dam construction had started.
The Yunnan provincial government said this week it had spent more than 80 million yuan to conserve the Three Parallel Rivers site since 2000 and denied the proposed dams would have any negative impact.
Environmentalists welcomed the international pressure, which they said would help supervise Beijing's conservation efforts. No dam construction has begun, because the central government fears damage to the mainland's image if the site loses World Heritage status.
But because of the energy that harnessing the Nu could produce, dam construction could begin next year, and a village at one of the proposed sites was relocated this year.
The mainland media have played up Kaiping's bid to be added to the list, but have not mentioned that officials in charge of the six troubled heritage sites have been summoned to New Zealand to report on their states of conservation.
'In China, all we care about is winning a new bid for the elite list, but few people have genuine interest in making conservation efforts. Many international experts have criticised China because of it,' said Wang Yafang , an editor of the Jiangmen newspaper. 'It is apparent that the UN body is not happy with China's conservation of at least some of the World Heritage sites.'
She said officials have been asked to report on the renovation project at the Forbidden City and the rapid urban development in Lhasa, which has threatened the Potala Palace.