Heritage sites retain status despite Unesco's concern over 'problems'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 June, 2007, 12:00am

Unesco has decided to keep six well-known tourist attractions on the mainland, including the Forbidden City, Lijiang in Yunnan and the Potala Palace in Lhasa , on its list of world heritage sites despite serious concerns over their conservation.

But the decision is no victory for Beijing, which received more warnings for the state of its heritage conservation than any other country at the 31st session of the Unesco World Heritage Committee in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The committee also issued a tough ultimatum on the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, one of the six sites, warning against plans to dam the Nu River and threatening to delist the site next year 'if no marked progress is made'. The heritage sites also include the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven.

Mainland experts on cultural relics have said warnings from Unesco should make the authorities rethink their profit-oriented conservation strategies, which have left many world heritage sites vulnerable to economic activities.

'Almost all the world heritage sites in China have more or less the same problems in terms of conservation efforts [as the six sites singled out by the UN body],' said Xu Pingfang , of the China Archaeological Society. 'The authorities, especially at local levels, have paid scant attention to making serious efforts to protect heritage sites compared with their enthusiasm at the time of their bidding and their interests in making profits from commercial development.'

Leading heritage expert Xie Chensheng said: 'World heritage is not a tree for bearing money.

'Local authorities' overemphasis on tourism and other economic activities is totally contradictory to the approach of preserving cultural and natural heritage.'

According to Jing Feng , a programme specialist at Unesco's World Heritage Centre, Unesco issued 'specific recommendations for corrective measures to be taken'.

But he refused to give details of Unesco's decision, saying the recommendations had not yet been finally endorsed by the committee, whose conference concludes on Monday.

According to the Oriental Morning Post in Shanghai, Unesco asked Beijing to submit another report for review at the World Heritage Committee meeting next year, detailing its plans for any future infrastructure projects, including the damming of the Nu River, and a full assessment of the environmental impact of possible hydroelectric projects near the site.

'UN experts urged China to become more transparent by making public any future project near the Three Parallel Rivers area in time,' said an unnamed Unesco official quoted in the report.

'We hope local governments managing other world heritage sites in China can learn a lesson from the Three Parallel Rivers that a listing as a world heritage site means taking responsibility and honouring promises rather than reaping the benefit from tourism and careless development.'