Foreign and Military Affairs

China praises US return of seized artifacts

Updated: 2011-03-14 07:08

By Lin Shujuan and Tan Yingzi (China Daily)

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BEIJING / WASHINGTON - China's top cultural heritage administrator said the recent repatriation of 14 ancient artifacts by the United States is a good example of international collaboration to curb the rampant pillaging and smuggling of treasures.

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US government officials returned 14 ancient artifacts to China on Friday that had been confiscated by law enforcement officers from traffickers.

"We really appreciate the United State's active cooperation with us over the years and for imposing a strict embargo on the import of Chinese ancient relics," said Tan Ping, director of the Division of Exit and Entry Supervision of Antiques under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Tan said the two countries signed an agreement in 2009 to work closely together to prevent illicit trafficking of archaeological objects. Since then the US has returned two collections of prehistoric fossils to China.

"They have also sent us a couple of photos of possible smuggled relics for confirmation," Tan added.

At a ceremony held at Washington's Smithsonian Institution, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Kumar Kibble and US Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar repatriated the ancient artifacts to Deng Hongbo, the Chinese embassy's deputy chief of mission and minister.

The artifacts included a Song Dynasty (960-1279) Bodhisattva head, a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) stone frieze, a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) ceramic vase, as well as terracotta, pottery and stone sculptures from the Sui (AD581-618), Northern Qi (AD550-577) and Tang (AD618-907) dynasties. They were seized in three separate operations in New York, Alaska and New Mexico.

At the ceremony, the two countries promised to work closely with each other to reduce the incentive for further destruction of ancient tombs and temples.

Deng described the repatriation as "another telling example" of the close law enforcement cooperation between the two countries.

"The items we are returning to the People's Republic of China today are delicate, but tangible, ancient works of art that are an important part of China's heritage," said Kibble.

"While seizing, forfeiting and repatriating these treasures is indeed reason for celebration, our long-term goal is to reduce the incentive for further destruction of ancient tombs and temples, where so many of these objects are dug up or chiseled off and pilfered."

Chinese art analysts have blamed a thriving global market for the relics as the reason behind widespread tomb robberies in China.

In the past 16 months, at least 16 Chinese antiques have sold for more than 100 million yuan ($14.9 million) at domestic and overseas auctions - almost four times the total number between 2005 and 2009.

Driven by high profits, a number of people have put numerous looted and smuggled Chinese artifacts on sale in foreign countries, Tan said.

To that effect, the country has reached agreements with 13 countries including Peru, India, Italy and the US to impose import restrictions on relics, which reduce the economic incentive behind the pillaging.

"If looters cannot send the items to buyers in the United States or other foreign countries, they are less likely to risk raiding an archaeological site," Tan said.

A team of archaeologists and other professionals will soon fly to the US to bring the artifacts back to China.

China Daily

(China Daily 03/14/2011 page2)


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