Return of cultural property needs international cooperation and effort
Published: Sep 09, 2014 08:03 PM

At an international conference of experts, Chinese cultural officials have called for further exploration and development into the return of illegally exported cultural property. 

"Exploring new solutions when it comes to returning cultural property outside the scope of the 1970 UNESCO Convention has been a major problem among many countries, especially countries where these objects originated," said Chinese Deputy Culture Minister Li Xiaojie at the opening of the 4th International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, on Tuesday.

First launched in South Korea in 2011, the focus of this year's three-day conference is the return of archaeological heritage.

According to Li, archaeological heritage is an essential part of understanding the history of human civilization, as such the clandestine excavation of archeological heritage is a crime that deprives the nations and peoples of the world the opportunity to understand and learn from this irreplaceable cultural heritage.

A difficult crime to combat, he also said that relevant national laws and international conventions have been unable to provide solid legal ground for the return of stolen items. 

 "2014 has been a historical year when it comes to this problem," said Li. "As I see it, the International Guidelines for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses with Respect to Trafficking in Cultural Property and Other Related Offences adopted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in January 2014 and the Operational Guidelines of the 1970 UNESCO Convention adopted in July, showcase the resolution and understanding of the international community."

At the opening of the conference, Park Hee-ung, director of the South Korea Cultural Heritage Administration's International Cooperation Division said that building a multilateral, bilateral and regional cooperative mechanism is essential for the protection and return of cultural property.

Previously, South Korea held the conference twice before it moved to Greece in 2013.

This year's conference marks the first time that such a conference on the return of cultural property has been held in China.

The conference is also being held as part of the Dunhuang Academy's celebration of its 70th anniversary, which falls on Wednesday.