22.06.2018 - Culture Sector

China Meeting on the Legal Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage

©Liu Lina

On 7 May 2018, an international conference on the Legal Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage was held in Xi’an, jointly organised by the Chinese National Center for Underwater Cultural Heritage and Xi'an Jiaotong University.

This international conference focused for a first time on the current legislation concerning underwater cultural heritage protection. Specifically, it explored the legal protection and the research of underwater cultural heritage in China. The primary purpose of the conference was to gather China’s government officials, experts on underwater archaeology, and experts on the law of the sea to discuss legal aspects, while fostering a better understanding of the protection of underwater heritage in China in the framework of the One Belt One Road Initiative.

The meeting was opened by the Vice Director of the China National Centre of Underwater Cultural Heritage, Mr Song Jianzhong, as well as the Chief of the Social Science Department of Xi’an Jiaotong University, Mr Jia Yihua, and the Vice Dean of the Law School of Xi’an Jiaotong University, Mr Ding Wei.

In the following, the keynote speech was delivered by an eminent international expert, Professor Tullio Scovazzi, who presented a case-study of the protection of the underwater heritage in Italy. The meeting was also an opportunity for other experts and scholars from China to engage in a discussion on the legal protection of underwater heritage in nine other states, including the United States, Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia, Germany and Spain. During a round-table discussions, participants debated important questions, such as whether China should ratify the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, legislative issues of Chinese Heritage Law, and the role of the government in protecting China’s rich, submerged heritage sites.

After the conference, Professor Tullio Scovazzi was invited to visit the China National Centre of Underwater Cultural Heritage in Beijing, accompanied by Professor Lina Liu from Xi’an Jiaotong University. At this occasion he delivered a presentation on underwater archaeology, and raised awareness on the UNESCO 2001 Convention as well as on the latest developments in the legal protection of underwater heritage. He discussed the implementation of the 2001 Convention in Italy and its successes, which assisted in clarifying remaining reservations by government officials.

China is particularly rich in underwater cultural heritage. It provides historically significant insight into the early contacts between Asia and Europe. Its research has for example been crucial in furthering knowledge about the economic and cultural exchanges along the Maritime Silk Road. Recently, China decided to study laws and policies of other States in the field of underwater cultural heritage protection in order to elaborate a more comprehensive legislative and administrative regime to protect this heritage.

Despite the recent increase in the number of States Parties to the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which has reached 60 States Parties, there are still only two Asian States, Cambodia and Iran, to have adhered to it. The UNESCO 2001 Convention offers however an efficient legal framework against the looting, illicit trafficking and commercial exploitation of underwater heritage, and promote awareness raising and research setting international scientific archaeological standards. 

UNESCO welcomes all national and regional consultation workshops to promote the 2001 Convention, and hopes that China, and others, will join the Convention to protect the world’s precious submerged cultural heritage.




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