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Council on Foreign Relations Debriefs COP27, ASEAN, and G20 Summits

December 12, 2022

The illicit trade of art and antiquities is no longer a niche issue. Global leaders in government, law enforcement, museums, and more recognize that significant action must be taken to end cultural racketeering and safeguard our shared history for future generations.

In 2022, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Cambodia, and the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Indonesia shined a light on this crime. These summits introduced and reinforced the threat of the illicit antiquities trade to a larger audience and presented solutions for mitigating the issue. Each initiative also introduced a declaration broadly mentioning plans to combat the illicit trade in art and artifacts and/or preserve and protect cultural heritage.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) held a Diplomacy Debrief on November 21, 2022, to dive deeper into takeaways from each of these events and some of the most pressing international issues.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition and Term Member of the CFR, had the opportunity to ask these experts about the role that cultural diplomacy—like that seen at this year’s COP270, G20, and ASEAN meetings—plays in wider foreign diplomacy.

Miles Kahler, Senior Fellow for Global Governance at CFR and a professor at the American University School of International Service, answered that antiquities have been part of illicit financial flows as a result of globalization, and this is a big issue facing museums and other cultural institutions around the world. Kahler also shared the role of the G20 is to signal to governments that cultural racketeering is an important issue on the international agenda.

Zoe Liu, Fellow for International Political Economy at CFR, spoke about China’s perspective on the illicit antiquities trade, as Chinese politicians and scholars have been interested in receiving stolen Chinese statues from the British Museum as the country builds major museums. Liu emphasized that cultural diplomacy is an important aspect of bilateral relations between the United States and China.

The CFR previously discussed the issue of cultural racketeering during an episode of its “Why It Matters” Podcast. Davis joined Dr. Amr Al Azm, Professor of History and Anthropology at Shawnee State University, and host Gabrielle Sierra to explore cultural heritage during war, antiquities looting and trafficking, terrorist financing, and more.

Read the full transcript of the event here.