Key areas of cooperation will include academic research, restoration efforts
China and Syria signed a joint agreement at the National Library of China in Beijing on Monday vowing to further foster cooperation of cultural heritage conservation between the two countries with ancient civilizations.
The joint agreement was the latest fruitful outcome within the framework of the Asian Initiative for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
President Xi Jinping proposed the initiative in a keynote speech at the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilization in Beijing in May 2019.
"Both China and Syria are ancient civilizations with a time-honored history and long-standing traditions," Li Qun, director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, said on Monday during the signing ceremony. "More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Silk Road began to build connections between the two nations, linking their history, cultures and peoples together.
"The Belt and Road Initiative has activated exchanges and interactions between the two civilizations with the fresh vigor of the times and broadened bilateral exchanges and cooperation in the field of cultural heritage with the new dimensions of the times," Li said.
According to the joint agreement, the first bilateral document concluded by cultural heritage authorities of the two governments, China and Syria will encourage and support exchanges and cooperation between cultural heritage conservators and management professionals of the two nations, including exchange visits, joint training programs and information sharing.
Other key areas of cooperation will include management, exhibition and academic research of museum collections, restoration of monuments and sites, conservation of underwater cultural heritage, joint archaeology, and sharing experiences in nomination, conservation, management and monitoring of World Heritage sites.
Efforts to prevent illicit trafficking of cultural property and to fight crimes involving cultural property are also highlighted in the document.
"The parties will … build networks for restitution and the return of cultural property and facilitate sharing of their lost cultural objects in a digital manner, with the aim of safeguarding the cultural heritage of mankind," the joint statement said.
The two countries may also sign cooperation agreements on specific matters separately under the framework of the joint agreement in the future.
Muhammad Hassanein Khaddam, the Syrian ambassador to China, said: "Many Asian archaeological artifacts made by our forefathers are scattered in museums outside their country of origin, where most of Asian history was written with non-Asian pens. Our continent has waited long for such creative initiatives to emerge.
"Through this initiative, we will know and write our own history with our hands, and cooperate in excavating the traces of our civilizations to know more of the bond our forefathers built throughout the ages," he added.
In 2021, 10 Asian countries including China and Syria inaugurated in Beijing the Asian Alliance for Cultural Heritage Conservation and aimed to build a new platform for international cooperation in the conservation of cultural heritage across Asia.
Some earlier bilateral cooperation on cultural heritages has benefited the public. For example, the exhibition Encounter Mesopotamia: An Exhibition of Antiquities From Ancient Syria, which opened in the National Library of China in June, has become popular among Chinese enthusiasts of cultural heritage.
About 200 relics are showcased in the exhibition, which will run through Oct 8, to demonstrate the vitality and diversity of ancient Syrian civilization.
In an online speech for the signing ceremony, Loubana Mouchaweh, Syrian minister of culture, noted that Syria has endured the dark shadow of war in the past decade, and its cultural relics also suffered much destruction.
"Adversity can make us even more determined," she said. "Safeguarding (heritages of Syrian civilization) is not merely the responsibility of the people of Syria, but also counts on everyone. We need a concerted effort for mankind to safeguard the great heritage on the Silk Road together with us."
Li, the National Cultural Heritage Administration director, vowed that with the Asian Initiative for Cultural Heritage Conservation, China and Syria will work together with more Asian countries to mobilize new and stronger cultural momentum for building a community with a shared future for Asia and promoting exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations.