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Ambassador Liu Xiaoming Holds On-line Handover Ceremony for Repatriation of Chinese Cultural Objects

On 19 October, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming held an on-line handover ceremony for repatriation of Chinese cultural objects and delivered a speech entitled A Beautiful Story of China-UK Cultural Exchange and Friendship. Sophie Hayes, Detective Constable of the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit, briefed the audience on the background of the handover of the cultural pieces. Hugo Ridley, International Strategy Policy Advisor, Creative Industries at Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and Head of China Cooperation Team, and Richard Martin, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, also spoke at the event.

Ambassador Liu Xiaoming began his speech by extending heartfelt thanks to the UK Government and Metropolitan Police for their all-out support. He said that the homecoming of these Chinese cultural objects bore three-fold significance. First, it will give new impetus to China-UK cooperation on the protection of cultural objects. “Two years ago, I had the honour to attend the handover ceremony of Tiger Ying, a bronze ware dating back to the Western Zhou Dynasty. Today, we are witnessing again the handover of lost Chinese cultural objects. This is a reminder that history must not be forgotten. This is also a productive outcome of China-UK joint efforts to protect cultural objects so that more lost relics can ‘find their way home’,” said the Ambassador.

Second, it is a vivid example of China-UK joint efforts in cracking down on smuggling of cultural artifacts. From 1995 to 1998, with the help of China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration, the UK Metropolitan Police Service, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, 3,000 pieces of cultural objects had been handed over to China. “Today’s repatriation, after more than 20 years, offers valuable experience in the collaboration against the smuggling of cultural objects. It is also a contribution of China-UK wisdom and solution to international cooperation on repatriation of lost cultural objects,” added Ambassador Liu.

Third, it will inject positive energy into China-UK friendly exchanges. Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, China and the UK have overcome various difficulties and ensured the handover of these cultural objects. “Such hard-won achievements will go a long way towards enhancing the mutual understanding and friendship between our peoples, and cultural exchange and mutual learning between our two countries. They will also inject positive energy into the steady and sustained development of China-UK relationship,” said the Ambassador.

On behalf of the UK Government and the Department for digital Culture, Media and Sport, Ridley congratulated all parties who have been involved in the safe return of these cultural artifacts to China. He said that tackling illicit trade in cultural objects requires strong international cooperation and collaboration and constant vigilance by law enforcement agencies. By effectively collaborating with the Chinese Embassy and China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration to tackle illicit transnational trafficking of cultural property, Metropolitan Police Service ensured a strong reputation of the UK in protecting cultural heritage. “I hope that people of China will welcome the return of these objects, and that our bilateral cooperation will continue to flourish across all forms of culture, heritage and the arts,” he said.

In his speech, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin said that the Metropolitan Police is proud to return these cultural exhibits back to where they belong. Both the UK and China have profound history and culture, and the loss of cultural objects affects all, because it’s everyone’s heritage. It is of critical importance for the two countries to cooperate and tackle illicit trafficking of cultural property. “This investigation has been so detailed and gone on so long, but it also demonstrates that how all these never become barriers to us to excavate criminals. I’m really proud of the cooperation with the Chinese Embassy and National Cultural Heritage Administration of China. It’s an excellent example about how we work together to combat cultural property smuggling,” he said.

The 68 Chinese cultural objects repatriated this time were part of a large-scale lot recovered by the Metropolitan Police in March 1995 after being smuggled into the UK by an organized criminal group. In 1998, after more than 3 years of complicated and painstaking evidence-obtaining, litigation and negotiation, 3,400 objects were handed back to China. This was the largest return of Chinese cultural relics from abroad since the founding of New China. In January 2020, the Metropolitan Police decided to return the remaining objects from the same lot that haven’t been settled through litigation and negotiation. On 16 October, the Chinese Embassy and the MET completed the physical handover of the objects.

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