China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea has been worrying for Southeast Asia and underwater archaeology has played a role in strengthening China’s claim over the sea, over equally legitimate claims by countries like Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. China’s is aiming to list the maritime silk road as a World Heritage Site and one could interpret the inclusion of disputed sites as a way to strengthen her claim on territories. Something to keep an eye on in the future – since the maritime silk route was not exclusively used by China and was a truly international trade route that would make better sense with many countries sharing the site listing together.
Xinhua, 13 July 2014
As China attempts to register the Maritime Silk Road with UNESCO, the protection of archeological sites in the disputed South China Sea is underway.
Shipwrecks around Shanhu and Jinyin islands in the Xisha (Paracel) archipelago will be excavated over the next two years, Wang Yiping, head of cultural heritage for Hainan province, said. Stone building material and carvings dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) have been discovered at the sites.
The material may have been carried by unfortunate Chinese emigrants whose ships sank. Such immigrants are known to have constructed traditional Chinese homes and temples at their destinations in Southeast Asia.
Sansha, which administers the Xisha Islands, has had conservation programs on Ganquan and Beijiao islands since earlier this year, Wang added. China has conducted frequent archeological surveys around the Xisha Islands, and the survey is now expanding south to the Nansha (Spratly) Islands.