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Cooperation needed to stop trade in relics
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The United States is where the largest amount of smuggled Chinese cultural relics end up and its government should work faster toward preventing the illicit trade, a top official said yesterday.

The signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) should be expedited to that effect, Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), told China Daily.

"Among other countries, we want most to sign such an agreement with the US. We have worked on it for more than four years but the process has been slow recently," Shan said.

Shan was speaking on the sidelines of a signing of an MOU between the SACH and the Ministry of Culture of Greece towards cooperation in the prevention of the theft, illegal excavation and illicit trade of cultural property.

The two countries agreed to take the necessary measures in accordance with a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convention in 1970.

According to the agreement, the parties will exchange information on smuggled goods from the two countries that appear on the international market.

They will also share information related to evaluating, registering, retrieving and returning lost cultural properties when conducting investigations.

The MOU also stipulates that signatories will collaborate in the return of important objects and parts or fragments of major cultural heritage sites to their country of origin.

Before Greece, China signed such MOUs with four countries - India, Italy, Peru and the Philippines. The first was signed with Peru in 2000.

China has always called for the US to sign such an MOU, and the request has been supported by American archaeologists and scholars, Shan said. The US State Department also held a hearing on China's request under the 1970 UNESCO convention.

But influential museum directors and collectors in the US have been against signing the MOU, and they have "held the incorrect view that these Chinese cultural properties in the US have become part of American culture because they were there for a long time", Shan said.

"These properties were taken out of their places of origin in a wretched way," he said.

"The directors should come and see how invaluable murals were cruelly cut into pieces and taken away, and how ancient tombs were raided," he said.

According to Greek culture minister Michalis Liapis, ancient civilizations should work together and "form an unofficial ally" to fight against the smuggling of cultural properties.

In November 2006, after a year of negotiations, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles agreed in principle to return a rare, 4th century BC gold funerary wreath to Greece that culture officials there contend was illegally removed from Greek soil. The museum bought the artifact in 1993.

(China Daily February 27, 2008)

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