[EDITORIALS]Asleep at the museum

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[EDITORIALS]Asleep at the museum

Because of the carelessness of the National Museum of Korea, plans for Korea and Japan to exchange exhibitions of cultural assets to celebrate the World Cup are breaking down. The cultural exchange idea was a good one, but our national museum has spoiled the original reason for the exchange.

The exchange was first proposed two years ago during President Kim Dae-jung's visit to Tokyo. The National Museum of Korea and Japan's Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Art in Osaka were to be involved. But the Korean National Mseum drew up its list of artifacts to be sent to Japan only two months ago and asked the Cultural Properties Committee to approve the dispatch of the items. The Cultural Properties Committee had to rush its work; the artifacts have to be in Osaka a month from now to meet the deadline for opening the exhibition in March.

The bureaucratic arrogance of the national museum is largely to blame. There is a set procedure for the temporary export of cultural artifacts; the list of items to be sent overseas for exhibitions is screened and approved by the Cultural Properties Committee and then by a cabinet council. But the National Museum of Korea sent an unreviewed list of artifacts to Japanese museums, triggering complaints from their Japanese counterparts later when the list was changed. The Cultural Properties Committee later said it could not allow a large golden incense burner from the Baekje period and a portrait of King Yeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty to be sent abroad. It said the value of the two masterpieces was far greater than the relics coming from Japan in exchange for them, and they deserve greater protection from possible damage in shipment or exhibition abroad. That kind of sloppiness shows that the Korean National Museum considered the cultural committee's work nothing more than a rubber-stamp routine.

The national museums in Japan reportedly took the withdrawal of the artifacts very seriously, and demanded that the Korean museum explain itself. Although the cultural exchange was planned to reinforce amity, it has instead caused conflict. The National Museum of Korea should settle this matter quickly, before the problem deepens.
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