A national organization will be established this year to better protect the world's longest and oldest canal, the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, making it a top candidate for a world heritage site, a senior official said.
Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said at a press conference during the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that the organization will coordinate protection efforts from different governmental departments and provinces along the canal.
Shan admitted that the 2,400-year-old canal, approved by the State Council as a national key cultural relic in 2005, is facing a series of problems because of inadequate protection efforts.
He said it lacks legislative support, good planning, a coordinating mechanism, and funds.
Shan criticized some places for damaging the canal's ancient look and original style by constructing numerous city squares and grasslands along the waterway.
"The canal is more than a tourist attraction," he explained. "We should combine the protection work with economic development to benefit people's lives."
Shan disagreed with the idea of making the whole canal navigable again.
The canal is now navigable between Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province and Jining in Shandong Province. Because of inadequate water and a narrow course, most of the canal's northern section (from Beijing to Jining) is inaccessible to boats.
Zhou Liang, an official with the Ministry of Communications, said the canal remains important to the economy in addition to its cultural value.
More than 100,000 vessels use the canal and carry 260 million tons of goods every year, three times as much as the Beijing-Shanghai Railway, Zhou said.
"The canal connects major coal bases in the north and serves as a cheap and convenient channel to transport coal to the fast developing Yangtze River Delta," Zhou said.