Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Renewal of China MOU in Diplomatic Trouble?

China's refusal to extradite Edward Snowden, who has been charged with espionage for his leaking of sensitive information gained while working as a contractor for the NSA, raises the question whether the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center should renew the current MOU with China.  This particular MOU is probably the most dubious of any of them.   Given China's own huge internal market in Chinese artifacts of the sort restricted under the current agreement, its net effect has only been to give Chinese commercial interests a leg up on their foreign, particularly American competition.  American archaeologists and museums may conduct useful collaborative efforts with their Chinese counterparts, but these will presumably continue without any MOU based on their own merits.   Import restrictions on the ability of Americans to import cultural goods are only supposed to be  imposed with due regard for the significant procedural and substantive constraints found in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  To the extent these statutory constraints have been ignored as a diplomatic gesture to China, China's own actions suggest that the US should reevaluate this MOU and other forms of diplomatic cooperation.  In short, if China won't repatriate Snowden to the US, why should the US repatriate undocumented Chinese artifacts to China?


Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this:

"Peter, I would not agree that the US act retributively against China, by not renewing the US-China MOU because of China's bad behavior with respect to Snowden -- which I think mixes apples (culture) with oranges (behavior on Snowden -- which China can claim was a matter for the government of Hong Kong to decide in any event).

There are good enough reasons not to renew the MOU for multiple reasons among which I would cite these:

1. China's deficiencies with respect to their behavior under the current MOU;
2. China's willful disregard for their own cultural patrimony which they continue to destroy (see the most recent example,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/22/ancient-chinese-tombs-destroyed-subway-outrage_n_3480330.html )
3. China's willful disregard of the spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention by allowing an unregulated market in cultural artifact for flourish domestically;
4. China's self-serving and malevolent hypocrisy in demanding that other countries -- including, in the first instance, the United States -- restrict the import of the same objects that they allow to be marketed domestically.

The list goes on, but that should be enough.

China is a Malefactor Source Country. That is a fact. It should be treated as a malefactor. I know the idea will drive certain readers to foam at the mouth and launch mindless attacks on anyone who suggest that China is anything but innocent. But facts, as is sometimes said, are stubborn things. And what China does to destroy culture within its own borders involves clear, stubborn facts.

With warm best wishes, again.


Cultural Property Observer said...

Yes, of course, there is no good reason for the China MOU to be renewed on its own merits. But to the extent the State Department is thinking about renewing it anyway to further our diplomatic relations with China, now there is no good reason to do that either.