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Alliance launched to protect cultural heritage

By WANG KAIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2021-10-28 07:39
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Visitors look at silver filament works displayed during the 5th China Intangible Cultural Heritage Traditional Craftsmanship Exhibition in Huangshan, East China's Anhui province, Oct 15, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

The Asian Alliance for Cultural Heritage Conservation was launched in Beijing on Wednesday, becoming the first mechanism for international cooperation on the conservation of cultural heritage across Asia.

The alliance was launched at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Asian Dialogue for Cultural Heritage Conservation, which echoes President Xi Jinping's proposal for the Asian Initiative for Cultural Heritage Conservation during his keynote speech at the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in Beijing in May 2019.

The two-day online conference was attended by more than 300 government officials, diplomats, scholars, museum administrators and other guests from 35 countries across the region and five international organizations.

China, Armenia, Cambodia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen became the founding members of the alliance.

According to Li Qun, director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, this intergovernmental and professional platform for cultural cooperation has been established based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit. The countries will negotiate to jointly draft the road map for the Asian Initiative for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

"Unity and collaboration among Asian countries will give great momentum to the protection of Asian cultural heritage and the inheritance of Asian civilizations," Li said.

Salma al-Darmaki, secretary-general of the UAE National Commission for UNESCO, said the alliance provides a key platform to realize the shared goal of protecting heritage in Asia, and she also expected it to bolster exchanges in this field related to education and young people.

More than 20 lectures will be given at the conference on Thursday to share experiences on the protection and archaeology of cultural heritage sites.

Li added that in Asia, one of the fastest-developing regions in the world, cultural heritage conservation faces great challenges due to urban development, climate change, natural disasters, the pandemic and military conflicts.

According to statistics from the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, about half of the endangered World Heritage Sites are in Asia.

Nevertheless, international cooperation has proved to be an important way of protecting such sites. For example, in the past decades, international cooperation on the conservation of Angkor Wat and other key heritage sites in Cambodia has contributed significantly to safeguarding these once endangered sites.

Around Angkor Wat, Chinese experts led the restoration of the Chau Say Tevoda temple, the Ta Keo temple and the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom, and China and India now jointly head the international coordinating committee for safeguarding the Preah Vihear temple, also in Cambodia.

Phoeurng Sackona, Cambodian minister of culture and fine arts, said, "From this dialogue, we will be able to work together, even during and following the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure the sustainability of cultural heritage and to enhance mutual understanding while cultivating people-to-people bonds in the region and beyond through cultural heritage conservation activities."

China has conducted 28 joint archaeological projects in 15 Asian countries. In 2014, the Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor, including historical monuments in China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, was inscribed as a World Heritage Site, becoming the first example of the joint nomination of a World Heritage Site in Asia.

In 2019, a major exhibition was held in Beijing displaying key cultural relics from all 47 Asian countries. From 2017 to 2020, nine Chinese museums successively exhibited the Bactrian Hoard, a group of precious relics from Afghanistan, which have borne witness to the efforts of successive generations to protect them from the ravages of war and conflict.

Li said that, under the framework of the Asian Initiative for Cultural Heritage Conservation and the newly launched alliance, more cooperation is expected in fields such as archaeology, the nomination of World Heritage Sites, protection of historical monuments, fighting the illicit trafficking of cultural assets and the repatriation of lost artifacts. Shared databases and protocols for heritage conservation are also planned.

To support these upcoming programs across the region, the Asian Fund for Cultural Heritage Conservation was also inaugurated during the conference on Wednesday.

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