Last month, Egyptian officials returned 13 banknotes, some of which were issued more than 115 years ago, to the Chinese embassy in Cairo through an international convention co-ordinated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was adopted at UNESCO’s 16th General Conference in Paris in 1970 but wouldn’t come into effect for another two years. The first international effort to combat illegal trafficking of cultural property, the convention was ratified or accepted by nine states. As of August 2017, 132 states were parties to the convention.
According to a China Daily report published this September, the Chinese banknotes – most of which were issued in the early 20th century – were illegally exported from China before being discovered by Egyptian officials earlier this year. The two countries, which have also shared a bilateral agreement to fight illegal trafficking of cultural property since 2010, held a transfer ceremony for the banknotes this August. It marked the first time Egypt has returned Chinese cultural relics to China.
In addition to being a party to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, China has signed bilateral agreements—similar to the one with Egypt—with 20 other countries.
Canada has been a party to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property since the late 1970s.
According to Hubert Lussier, assistant deputy minister of citizenship and heritage, this allows the Department of Canadian Heritage to protect Canada’s cultural property while preventing the illicit import of other countries’ cultural property into Canada.
“Since that time, our country has defended the convention’s assertion that the protection of cultural heritage can be effective only if organized both nationally and internationally among states working in close co-operation,” Lussier told China Daily this January, after Canadian officials returned to China some illegally exported carved wooden roof supports from Yunnan province in southwest China.
In April 1997, Canada entered into a bilateral agreement with the U.S. to protect archaeological and ethnological material that represents the Aboriginal cultural groups of Canada as well as historic shipwrecks at least 250 years old.