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World Heritage Committee sets out its vision

Updated: 2021-08-02 07:55 ( China Daily )
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Editor's Note: The Extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee was held in Fuzhou, Fujian province, from July 16 to 31. Tian Xuejun, chairman of the extended session and the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO, shares the outlook of World Heritage in China at the meeting's conclusion.

What are the primary outcomes of the Extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee? What positive significance has the session produced in the promotion of global heritage protection?

On July 31, 2021, the Extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee concluded in Fuzhou after completing the consideration of all items on the agenda.

China attaches great importance to the session of the World Heritage Committee. President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to the session, and Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan read out the congratulatory letter and delivered a speech at the opening ceremony. President Xi profoundly elaborated the importance of world cultural and natural heritage to human civilization and sustainable development, and emphasized that China stands ready for more exchanges and cooperation with all other countries and UNESCO to promote dialogue between civilizations, facilitate exchanges and mutual learning, and support the protection of the world's heritage. Let us jointly preserve the cultural and natural treasures of all humanity and work for a community with a shared future for mankind. The congratulatory letter from President Xi provided directional guidance for this session and was highly commended by States Parties and UNESCO.

Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought about complicated and grave challenges to World Heritage conservation, the session's success is of particular significance. This session has achieved fruitful results, which are mainly reflected in the following three aspects.

The first achievement is its adherence to the spirit of the convention to forge solidarity and consensus. The committee members unanimously supported the adoption of the Fuzhou Declaration, which reiterates the principle of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World's Cultural and Natural Heritage and the importance of international cooperation for World Heritage protection. This echoed the session's great concern over the far-reaching impact of climate change on the sustainable development of World Heritage, emphasizing that it is the shared responsibility of all humankind to protect World Heritage. It called for scaling up support to developing countries, especially to African countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), to maintain an open, inclusive, adaptive, sustainable, resilient, clean and beautiful world for future generations. The Fuzhou Declaration embodies the consensus and actions of the members of the World Heritage Committee and is emblematic of the solidarity of this session. During the session, representatives of the members of the World Heritage Committee, States Parties observers, and representatives from the advisory bodies overcame the technical challenges and time-zone differences and actively participated in the discussion of important items. Upholding the spirit of the convention and with a scientific, professional and objective attitude, they freely expressed their opinions while adhering to unity and cooperation to reach consensus. Positive progress has been made in terms of sustainable development of World Heritage, World Heritage conservation in Africa, the response to the impact of climate change on World Heritage and nomination process reform, among other things.

The second achievement is the implementation of the Global Strategy to enrich the heritage list. In 1994, the World Heritage Committee proposed a Global Strategy for a more representative, balanced, and credible World Heritage List. In this session, a total of 34 nominations, including "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China", were inscribed on the list. When reviewing the nominations, the members of the committee maintained the principles of the convention and expressed their support and encouragement for the nominations proposed by the developing countries. This session fully recognized the progress of the ad hoc working group of the World Heritage Committee over the past two years, which provides a new and important opportunity for the implementation of its Global Strategy. During this session, all the committee members made concerted efforts and contributed their wisdom and strength to overcoming the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and establishing a more representative, balanced, and credible World Heritage List.

The third achievement is the strengthening of monitoring and supervision, with the aim of enhancing heritage protection. The committee reviewed a total of 258 state of conservation reports of World Heritage properties, gave full consideration to the professional recommendations of advisory bodies such as ICOMOS and IUCN, and made decisions based on consensus. The World Heritage Committee highly praised three World Heritage properties, namely the Great Wall of China, Tai National Park and Comoe National Park, both in Cote d'Ivoire, as model cases of conservation and management. The committee also fully recognized the achievements and progress made by the Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo in eliminating threats of war and illegal poaching, and unanimously agreed to remove it from the List of World Heritage in Danger, which is of great significance for promoting World Heritage protection in Africa. In addition, the committee decided by a secret ballot to remove "Liverpool-Maritime Mercantile City of Britain" from the World Heritage List. It was the first World Heritage site deleted in the past 10 years, which reflects the firm determination of the committee to safeguard heritage in line with the requirements of the convention.

During the session, a series of side events have been organized by different stakeholders online and offline. These were themed on World Heritage education, interpretation and presentation, World Heritage site managers, World Heritage leadership, conservation and sustainable development of historic urban landscapes, and world natural heritage and biodiversity and space technologies toward sustainable development of World Heritage. In particular, the side event under the title of the Africa-China Capacity Building for World Heritage Conservation and Management-Towards Future Cooperation between Africa and China demonstrated China's concrete actions to improve the number and tackle the underrepresentation of African countries' World Heritage sites. Arguably, these side events have contributed positive outcomes to the session from different professional fields.

Some of the 22 component sites included in "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China": Tianhou Temple, where people pray to Mazu, a sea goddess. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee was held online. How did China, as the host country of the session, make efforts and contributions to ensure the success of the session?

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China and also the 50th anniversary of China's restoration of its lawful seat in UNESCO.This session of the World Heritage Committee, hosted by China, showcased the outstanding achievements made by the Communist Party of China by uniting and leading the Chinese people, demonstrated the remarkable achievements made by China in the construction of ecological civilization and the protection, inheritance, and utilization of cultural relics, and vividly displayed China's major strategic success in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a major and responsible country, rich in World Heritage, China has been actively contributing its wisdom, solutions, and strength to World Heritage conservation. As the host country of the session, China proposed the Fuzhou Declaration, which was adopted through consensus by the World Heritage Committee. The Committee members widely believed that the Fuzhou Declaration, a significant milestone, is very balanced and highly inclusive and fully reflects the concerns of the States Parties. During the session, China, as the host country, firmly adhered to the purpose and principles of the convention, actively promoted the implementation of the Global Strategy for World Heritage conservation, and played a positive leading role in implementing UNESCO's global strategy of Africa Priority. It also responded to climate change and properly handling the relationship between development and protection, strengthening the World Heritage capacity building, promoting the nomination process reform, and reinforcing World Heritage education. Through its efforts, China has facilitated the achievement of a series of new and important outcomes. With a fair, just, cooperative and inclusive attitude, China preserved the solidarity and cooperation between the committee members, and encouraged the committee members to seek common ground while shelving differences and forging consensus, and ensured the smooth proceeding of the consideration of the items on the agenda.

Fuzhou, as the host city and guided by the concept of organizing a cultural, green, and digitalized session, made thorough preparations in organizing offline activities, including the opening ceremony. The art performance named Fuzhou Welcomes Guests From Around the World was splendidly staged, the exhibition themed on World Heritage in China was attractively presented, and various colorful heritage exhibitions and experience activities were organized. Fuzhou city and Fujian province deeply impressed representatives of different countries participating offline and online. It is the first time in UNESCO's history to conduct an online review of World Heritage items, and Fuzhou has provided strong technical support. An array of operational norms and procedures for online meetings established and applied by this session will serve as essential references for carrying out work relative to World Heritage conservation online and offline in the post-pandemic era.

Some of the 22 component sites included in "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China": Luoyang Bridge, which connects Quanzhou to Fujian's heartland. [Photo provided to China Daily]

During this session, "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China" was successfully inscribed on the World Heritage List, and China's extensive family of World Heritage added a new member. What's your comment on this?

During this session, the World Heritage Committee decided by consensus to inscribe "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China" on the World Heritage List, adding another shining pearl to China's World Heritage sites. So far, the total number of World Heritage sites in China has reached 56. Quanzhou, as a window of international economic and cultural exchange during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties, was a critical node on the Maritime Silk Road and an outstanding exemplar of the world's maritime trade centers. It has witnessed the brilliant historical chapter of China's long-standing splendor at the center of the world stage, the exchanges and mutual learning between Eastern and Western civilizations, the friendly exchanges among the peoples of different countries, and the vibrancy and prosperity depicted in a line by a Song Dynasty poet that says with the rising tide, merchant ships from all countries come ashore to trade.

Through the mirror of history and from a global perspective, we are even more aware of the outstanding universal value of Quanzhou. Today, China's national rejuvenation has become a historical inevitability with unprecedentedly bright prospects. China and the Chinese people will continue to work with all peace-loving countries and people to develop a new type of international relations, promote the building of a community with a shared future for mankind, boost high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative through joint efforts, and provide the world with new opportunities through China's new achievements in development.

Some of the 22 component sites included in "Quanzhou: Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan China": Kaiyuan Temple. [Photo provided to China Daily]

This session of the World Heritage Committee has concluded. What new measures will China take in the "post-session" phase?

The great success of the Extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee opened a new chapter for China's endeavors to protect different types of heritage, including World Heritage. During the"14th Five-Year Plan" period, we will thoroughly study and implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, practice the new development philosophy, earnestly implement the convention in the spirit of being responsible for history and the people, and continuously improve our heritage protection capabilities and results.

President Xi, in his congratulatory letter, emphasized that world cultural and natural heritage is an important vehicle in promoting exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations. We will take World Heritage as a window to showcase the extensive and profound Chinese culture, present beautiful China with lucid water and lush mountains, tell Chinese stories well, and help the world understand China. We will take World Heritage as a bridge to promote cross-cultural dialogues, exchanges, and mutual learning between civilizations, and transcend civilization estrangement, clashes, and superiority. We will take World Heritage as a vehicle to carry forward the common values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom for all humankind, promote people-to-people exchanges between China and other countries, foster people-to-people connectivity between peoples of all nations, and accelerate the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

The Chinese National Commission for UNESCO will give full play to its roles, maintain its cooperation with relevant authorities and local governments to carry out work relative to the nomination, protection, inheritance and utilization of World Heritage, continue to showcase Chinese concepts and practices relating to World Heritage protection, participate in the global World Heritage governance, and deepen exchanges and cooperation with UNESCO World Heritage Center and related advisory bodies. We will earnestly implement the crucial measures proposed by Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan at the opening ceremony of the session, including providing support for developing countries, especially African countries and SIDS, to cultivate professionals for World Heritage protection, implement the capacity building projects on World Heritage nomination, conservation and management for African countries, and cooperate with UNESCO to organize the capacity building forum on World Heritage nomination and conservation for African countries.

Youths are the future for the undertaking of World Heritage conservation. China will spare no effort to promote World Heritage education and take forceful action to cultivate talent for World Heritage conservation and international cooperation. Meanwhile, China will work with UNESCO to establish an online platform for World Heritage education, continue to co-organize the International Youth Forum on Creativity and Heritage along the Silk Roads, and motivate the youth of different countries to support and participate in the noble cause of World Heritage protection.

Wang Kaihao contributed to this story.

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