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The highway in Hebei Province, at the entrance to a tunnel under the Great Wall.

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A four-lane highway on bridges will span the entrance to Mt Simatai, truncating this view. This is the state of work in October this year

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The highway in Hebei Province, at the entrance to a tunnel under the Great Wall.

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Earthworks and more of the same: a free-for-all for the road construction companies . . . and what’s wrong with one more tunnel in China? 


CHINA’S ICON the Great Wall,  listed by UNESCO in 1987, was in July this year, amid much excitement by China, voted by the public internationally as one of the seven wonders of the planet.

A wonder it may be by popular vote on face value but what remains of this plundered treasure faces a much greater threat to its integrity than the millions of feet trampling upon it.

Outside Beijing at arguably the most scenic section of Ming Dynasty wall,  Simatai   to Jinshanling, the Chinese Government is about to change the face of the World Heritage site forever with the construction of a freeway within the site’s buffer zone.

This four-lane monster, work on which began in Hebei Province last year to continue China’s love affair with motorways, will link Chengde in that province with Beijing by way of a tunnel beneath the wall and then vaulting bridges at the scenic entrance to Mt Simatai, truncating one of the most admired views in the country and then continuing on its serpentine course through the rural countryside.

Words from the Chinese Government on protection of the environment are gushing and if not rhetoric then presumably there was due diligence and a comprehensive appraisal of the project and an environmental impact statement submitted to UNESCO’s World Heritage unit for approval.

At the recent 17th National People’s Congress in Beijing President Hu Jintao declared that the party’s “scientific outlook on development” would be enshrined in the party’s constitution. The party would promote among other things “environmental protection”, following up on concerns at the 2003 congress which sought to constrain “excessive consumption of resources and damage to the environment”.

China enacted environmental protection law in 1979, mainly for construction projects, but it has no statutory mandate. The law provides for the assessment of the projects and production of an environmental impact statement.The statement allows personnel in environmental departments to make appropriate decisions. The law does not provide for notification or involvement of the public in the process and foreign observers are mixed in their views about whether the law fully protects the environment.

Evidence at Mt Simatai however suggests the law is impotent, it has not been applied and there is no assessment because this work and associated quarry and nearby iron-stone mine fall within the definition of vandalism, similar in fact to a freeway project completed some years at Mt Yanmen in Shanxi Province. There, in a semi-arid and historically important precinct (ancient and in China’s folklore, and spoken of much like the Three Gorges) the government constructed the Beijing to Taiyuan highway which bisected the beautiful setting of the Great Wall and the valley environment of the 14 th Century Guangwu fort and nearby Han Dynasty tombs. A parallel and equally repugnant project in Australia would be a highway with bridges and flyovers within one kilometre of Uluru.

Locals at Mt Simatai are dismayed at the imminent destruction of the environment but say nothing can be done. There is no public input, appeal or protest, they said.

At Gubeikou, in the same region as Mt Simatai, a spectacular section of the Great wall is in the hands of a Beijing-based private company. This part of the World Heritage Area has been fenced off and is patrolled by security staff.The ticket office requests 25 yuan.

Paris-based UNESCO has been alerted to the Mt Simatai issue and details, including photographs, sent to the director, Mr Francesco Bandarin ( .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) and the chief of the World Heritage unit for central and south Asia, Mr Francis Childe ( .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)). The enquiry has subsequently been referred to a Chinese national Mr Feng Jing ( .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) ), who has requested further details.

 

 

From a Correspondent in Beijing
This four-lane monster, work on which began in Hebei Province last year to continue China’s love affair with motorways, will link Chengde in that province with Beijing by way of a tunnel beneath the wall and then vaulting bridges at the scenic entrance to Mt Simatai, truncating one of the most admired views in the country and then continuing on its serpentine course through the rural countryside.

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