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China answers call for relics 'safe havens'

By WANG KAIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-29 04:45

It will help protect cultural items from world's conflict areas

China's national body overseeing protection of historical heritage has vowed to respond to the call for establishing "safe havens" for cultural properties from regions in conflict.

"Development of a network of safe havens will allow China to offer temporary asylum for endangered cultural heritage," said Liu Yuzhu, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, during a seminar in Beijing.

"National-level museums and conservation institutions are encouraged to support international actions protecting these artifacts," he added.

China began considering taking action during Liu's attendance in December at an international conference in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, on the safeguarding of endangered cultural heritage items.

Liu also encouraged Chinese enterprises to donate more to international foundations involved in protecting cultural heritage.

China will expand its cultural heritage conservation efforts beyond the nation's borders and thus better serve China's overall diplomacy, he said. However, a timeline for the effort was not released, and the institution responsible for overseeing it has not been named.

Pan Shouyong, a museology professor at Minzu University of China in Beijing, said such a network was first advocated by UNESCO to respond to the endangerment of cultural relics created by wars and other threats in recent years.

"It's an international responsibility to aid the artifacts in danger," Pan said. "Now it is clear that China will accept the responsibility."

Huo Zhengxin, a professor of international law at China University of Political Science and Law, said there have been several successful examples of such protection in Europe, though the "safe haven" concept is relatively new.

For example, when the Taliban group effectively ruled Afghanistan, many cultural relics were secretly transported to a museum in Switzerland and were temporarily housed there until 2006, when they were taken back to the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Additionally, Huo said, the British Museum once supported the maintenance of Iraqi museums' operations when the country's cultural heritage management system became paralyzed during the Iraq War in 2003.

He added that an international convention signed in The Hague in 1954 stipulates that cultural property temporarily stored in other countries due to conflict must be sent back after the conflict ends.

"China has a stable political and economic environment, which is an advantage for having such safe havens," Huo said. "China also has leading expertise and technology in relevant fields."

Liu said China is conducting cross-border joint archaeological projects in 15 countries. Major China-led restoration projects at such sites as Ta Keo Temple in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and Bhimsen Tower in Kathmandu, Nepal, have provided much experience regarding efforts abroad to conserve cultural relics.

"Though international cooperation on cultural relics usually has a smaller scale and investment compared with other types of projects, the influence is much bigger," said Chai Xiaoming, head of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, which is in charge of the projects.

"They represent history and people's deep emotions," he said.

Huo, however, said more complete rules and laws are needed to aid the effort to set up safe havens for relics.

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