China aims to add ancient port of Quanzhou to Unesco’s World Heritage List

·3-min read

China’s ancient port city of Quanzhou will be assessed for world heritage status when representatives of a Unesco body meet in the country’s southeast later this month.

The city of Fuzhou, about 180km from Quanzhou, will host the World Heritage Committee’s two-week session from July 16 after the gathering was postponed from last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tian Xuejun, vice-minister for education and director of China’s National Commission for Unesco, confirmed on Monday that Quanzhou’s application was on the agenda.

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Tian said Quanzhou was “expected to add another jewel to China’s World Heritage List”.

Zhang Lei, an official in charge of Unesco cultural heritage applications with the National Cultural Heritage Administration, said the administration was “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome.

Quanzhou was the most important port in China and one of the world’s busiest during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties. Described by Italian explorer Marco Polo as the largest port in the world, the city is believed to be the starting point of ancient China’s maritime trading route, now known as the Maritime Silk Road.

China has in recent years promoted both the maritime and continental Silk Roads as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, saying its efforts to revive the ancient trade routes would bring new wealth and development opportunities to participating countries.

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It is the second time the city has applied for world heritage status – its application for “Ancient Quanzhou” was deferred when the committee met in Bahrain in 2018.

After the deferral, which means the applicant needs to reapply with more information, the National Cultural Heritage Administration worked with “professional international institutions”, making major technical adjustments and resubmitting the application as “Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China”, according to Zhang.

“The theme is clearer with a sounder elaboration of value,” he said.

China has 55 world cultural or natural heritage sites, including 12 since 2012, according to Tian.

The committee meeting will be held virtually, with several officials from Unesco’s governing bodies addressing the session online.

The reviews of the 45 items on the World Heritage List and 258 reports on the state of conservation of World Heritage Sites will be held virtually too.

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Meanwhile, Tian denied China was behind a Unesco committee’s recommendation last month that the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s biggest coral reef system, be added to the “in danger” list due to the impact of climate change.

He said China was “firmly opposed” to Australia’s “reckless attempts to smear China, put pressure on the World Heritage Committee through media speculation, and interfere with the objective and impartial decisions made by the World Heritage Committee”.

Australia has been battling to keep the Great Barrier Reef, a major tourist attraction, off the “in danger” list. In 2015, Unesco noted the outlook for the reef was poor but kept the site’s status unchanged, but scientists say it has suffered serious major coral bleaching due to severe marine heatwaves.

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