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China Takes Pains to Protect World Heritage Sites
The world's tallest Buddha statue in Leshan city, in southwest China's Sichuan Province, is undergoing its second round of facelift since April.

The project aims to make the statue, which is more than 1,200 years old, weatherproof, by installing drainage devices and protecting the statue's feet against pounding waves.

The facelift project is the first initiated in China to use a World Bank loan to repair and restore a world heritage site, according to Zeng Zhiliang, an engineer in the field of ancient relics and architecture, who heads a 20-strong team to do the work.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will investigate into the protection of natural and cultural heritage sites worldwide this year.

The giant Leshan statue, which was included on the World Cultural Heritage list in 1996, has suffered apparent weathering from the wind, water, acid rains, and ware and tear by visitors for years. China input 250 million yuan (US$30 million) to "beautify" the bulk statue from March 2001 to the end of last year.

The Buddha statue, sitting squarely on a cliff, 71 meters from top to bottom and 28 meters across, is 18 meters higher than the standing Buddha statue in Bamian Valley, Afghanistan, once thought to be the tallest in the world.

The Chinese government has always attached great importance to protecting world natural and cultural heritage sites.

With its aid, a 330-million-yuan (US$40 million) program has begun to restore to their original magnificence the prestigious Potala Palace and Norbuglinkha, both on UNESCO's world cultural heritage list, and the Sagya Monastery with an abundance of rare religious relics, all in Tibet Autonomous Region, southwest China.

Previously, a restoration project for the Potala Palace was launched in 1989 at a cost of 50 million yuan (US$6 million) and took six years to complete.

Moreover, authorities in the state-level Wuyi Mountains scenic zone, in east China's coastal Fujian Province, have intensified efforts to protect the "true feature" of the exotic mountain, which has also been cited on both the World Natural Heritage and World Cultural Heritage lists.

According to the plan, a highway surrounding the scenic zone will be built for non-sightseeing buses to reduce the number of vehicles traversing the area. With a state investment of over 27 million yuan (US$3.25 million), the highway project is expected to be completed this year.

After the highway goes into service, only battery-driven vehicles will be permitted to enter the scenic zone.

In addition, local authorities have allocated 100 million yuan (US$12 million) to displace more than 400 households out of the scenic area, and will build more sewage treatment facilities in nearby areas.

China boasts a total of 28 world natural and cultural heritage sites. Four are in southwestern Sichuan Province, second only to the capital of Beijing. All world heritage sites in Sichuan are well preserved and remain intact.

The province has put into effect a regulation specially drafted for protecting local world heritage sites, the first local law of its kind enacted in China and one of the few similar regulations in the world.

Sichuan's regulation bans the construction of hotels, guest houses, development zones and other related facilities in the core area of a world heritage site, calling for enhanced efforts to protect ecological environment and the wide use of environment-friendly vehicles with clean fuel in the radius of world heritage sites. The regulation also strictly specifies the discharge of polluted sewage water, smoke and dust as well as the treatment of domestic waste.

With this regulation in effect, Sichuan Province is aiming to preserve intact its world heritage sites for future generations, a provincial official said.

(Xinhua News Agency July 3, 2002)

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