The rumor swept through the aisles of the Seventh Regiment Armory in New York as art dealers traded gossip with collectors: Dina Powell was going to China.
Normally a routine overseas trip by a government figure - Powell is an assistant secretary of state - would hardly warrant attention from experts on Song dynasty ceramics or Buddhist statuary. But in their minds, this time their very livelihoods were at stake. The fear was that Powell, who heads the State Department's bureau of educational and cultural affairs, was going to Beijing to announce a sweeping ban on the import of Chinese art and artifacts predating 1911. The Chinese requested the ban in 2004, arguing that American demand for such objects was spurring the looting of valuable archaeological sites in China.
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At the center of the controversy is not a ranking official but an obscure State Department advisory panel that has become the bête noire of collectors of everything from Roman vases to African statuary. The panel, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, has been the focus of fierce battles between archaeologists, who say that the art market fosters the looting of historic sites, and dealers, who say that broad import restrictions threaten collecting by private individuals and museums in the United States.
Some good points brought up in there, such as whether the import restrictions should/do apply to anything old or just "culturally significant" items.