China will strengthen intelligence sharing and joint investigation cooperation with other countries to fight rampant cross-border trafficking of cultural relics, a senior official from the Ministry of Public Security said.
Law enforcement agencies from China and other nations－including European and some Southeast Asian countries and the United States－will target major and individual cases and work to smash major transnational cultural heritage trafficking rings, said Chen Shiqu, deputy director of the ministry’s Criminal Investigation Bureau.
Crimes involving grave robbing and smuggling of cultural relics are on the rise due to strong market demand and temptation driven by huge economic interests, attracting high attention from the public and media, Chen said in an exclusive interview.
“China has a large number of cultural treasures, of high cultural, artistic and research value, that are sought after by collectors from home and abroad, and such relics always fetch a high price, all of which contributes to the high incidence of such crimes,” Chen said.
According to the ministry, police uncovered more than 500 cases involving grave robbing and theft and trafficking of cultural relics last year. Police arrested more than 900 suspects and broke up 100 organized criminal gangs.
Police confiscated nearly 10,000 cultural relics, many of them listed as treasures under State protection. The ministry issued high-level arrest warrants for 20 suspects, and 15 of them have been brought to justice.
“Chinese cultural relics ... cannot be reproduced and copied, and once they are stolen or destroyed, the country suffers from the great loss of such treasures,” Chen said.
“We will take severe measures to fight such crime and seriously punish the robbers and traffickers to protect the rare and precious cultural heritage.”
He said many of the cases involved major crimes, and robbers have increasingly targeted graves. In 2015 and 2016, robbers raided the Eastern Royal Tombs of the Qing Dynasty in Zunhua, Hebei province, and the stone candlesticks were recently stolen from the Ming tombs in Beijing.
Chen said Chinese suspects collude with accomplices overseas to become criminal operations that fund grave robberies, transport the treasures, seek clients and smuggle the relics abroad.
“Most smuggled cultural relics are sold to private collectors or foreign museums, and we face practical difficulties in identifying and recovering them,” he said.
To fight such crimes, in November, the Ministry of Public Security and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage established a website to collect clues involving stolen and lost cultural heritage across the country.
The website－bdww.sach.gov.cn－invites people from China and overseas to report information on theft of relics.
Since November, it has received more than 200 tips involving stolen or lost cultural artifacts and some of the cases are under investigation.
Liu Yuzhu, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said the agency is working out procedures to issue arrest warrants for fugitives involved in grave robbery and trafficking of relics.
It will work closely with the public security agencies to conduct investigations in areas, such as Shaanxi, Beijing and Henan, that are most likely to have problems with the safety of cultural relics to effectively prevent major crimes.