Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the Shanghai Expo Thematic Forum "Cultural Heritage and Urban Regeneration"

Minister Cai Wu,
Mayor Han Zheng,
Party Secretary of Jiangsu Province Liang Baohua,
Governor Luo Zhijun,
Distinguished Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is truly a pleasure to be with you here in Suzhou. As a Jiangsu province native myself, it brings me much joy to experience the Shanghai Expo and address one of its theme forums here in Suzhou.

I thank the Ministry of Culture, the Municipal Government of Shanghai, the Provincial Government of Jiangsu, Suzhou city and my colleagues from UNESCO for organizing this important forum.

The Expo events are captivating the world’s attention. They are spreading knowledge about the unique beauty and depth of Chinese culture and about the riches of cultures from over 190 countries.

In this context, the theme of Suzhou’s forum, “Cultural Heritage and Urban Regeneration”, is an important and timely one. As you know, China, with a documented history of 5,000 years, has undergone a massive transformation from an agrarian economy to a leading industrial power. Indeed, for many years now it has had the fastest-growing major economy in the world.

The resulting changes are most evident in Chinese cities.

New housing developments, skyscrapers and transportation infrastructure are being constructed at a breakneck pace. Huge influxes of people from towns and villages have come to cities to seek better lives.

Suzhou, with a history of 4,000 years, is also one of the most developed cities in one of the most developed regions – the Yangzi River Delta. Whether and how it succeeds in meeting the challenge of rapid urbanization while protecting and preserving its rich cultural heritage will help determine the sustainable future of Suzhou.

This type of challenge posed by rapid urbanization is found in countless other countries and cities as well. The breathtaking pace of technological invention has made cities across the world places of opportunity, with concentrations of manufacturing, commerce and services – although many are rife with serious social inequities and environmental degradation.

With so many changes happening, it is important to step back and analyze the urban landscapes we see in front of us today.

Are all the changes we see for the better? How can cities be the engines of economic growth and centres of culture? How do we reconcile the need for urban development with the imperative of preserving our cultural heritage? What is the optimal trade-off? Can we achieve both ends?

From a sustainable development perspective, are the physical spaces of today’s cities nurturing people in social and spiritual ways as well as economically? How can neighbourhoods with their close social bonds and historical charm be preserved while advancing the quality of life for the people who live there? Are new, modern, functionally efficient neighbourhoods more or less conducive to creating harmony among diverse social groups?

This forum will prompt discussion on these important questions and others. I hope that you and I will come away with new ideas about the cities that we live in, and how to appreciate and preserve – if even in small ways – the cultural heritage that surrounds us each day. Your deliberations here will feed into the Summit Forum of the Expo, scheduled to take place on 31 October – the closing day of the Expo.

In this regard, I would like to commend the range of topics covered in the forum. I was especially glad to see the distinction made between tangible cultural heritage – such as landmarks and historical buildings – and intangible cultural heritage – such as music, dance and social practices.

The United Nations system has long addressed the challenges of urbanization, protection of cultural heritage and sustainable cities. The UN agency dedicated to preserving cultural legacies, UNESCO, has been working toward preserving both intangible and tangible aspects of worldwide cultures, including through the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The UN-HABITAT has been promoting socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities, while addressing the needs of urban regeneration.

I would also like to add that the goals of this forum are in line with another effort by the United Nations. The UN General Assembly proclaimed 2010 as the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures and designated UNESCO to lead it. My Department was proud to contribute by organizing a special event this past April to mark the International Year, with keynote addresses by the UN Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly. The overarching goal of this effort is to foster awareness and appreciation for other cultures. In this context, the session here on the “Integration and Co-existence of Diverse Urban Cultures” lends support to the International Year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The theme of this Forum is too important and profound not to be given an in-depth discussion. May this Forum help leave the intellectual legacy of Shanghai Expo. May this event also inspire innovative and imaginative ideas for preserving the heritage of cities while making them more sustainable, equitable and liveable for future generations.

Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts with you. Best wishes as you enjoy the next few days.