Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 12:34 UK

Taiwan rejects 'looted' China art

The moment the two bronzes were sold at auction

Taiwan's main museum has refused to exhibit two Chinese sculptures owned by late French designer Yves St Laurent.

Beijing has demanded the return of the sculptures, and the director of the Taipei National Palace Museum said she could not display looted objects.

China says the two Qing dynasty bronzes were seized illegally in 1860 by invading French and British forces.

The decision comes on the week Taiwan and China hold their first joint exhibition of relics.

The venture is one of several signs of improving relations between the two neighbours since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in Taiwan last year.

Controversial auction

The two bronzes - of a rat and a rabbit head - were allegedly stolen from Beijing's Summer Palace at the end of the Second Opium War.

One of the items on display at Taipei's Palace Museum ( image courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei)

They were part of the collection owned by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge.

The sculptures have already been in the news this year, when they were put up for auction in February, despite protests from Beijing.

A Chinese collector bid 15.7 million euros ( $23m, £14m ) for them, but subsequently refused to pay, leaving the bronzes to sit in a safe.

Chou Kung-shin, director of Taiwan's National Palace Museum, said she had met Mr Berge but no deal to exhibit the bronzes had been reached.

"In accordance with professional museum ethics, we can't collect disputed artefacts," she told reporters.

"I wanted to give them to the Taiwan museum, but they didn't want to create a bone of contention... with mainland China," Mr Berge told a French radio station on Monday.

New exhibition

Meanwhile Taiwan and China have opened the first joint exhibition by their two leading museums in six decades.

Undated photo of Taiwan's National Palace Museum
The joint exhibition is being held at Taipei's National Palace Museum

"This exhibition is a landmark indicator of the exchanges launched by the two museums more than half a year ago," said Zheng Xinmiao, the head of the Palace Museum in Beijing.

The exhibition - in Taipei's National Palace Museum - features items from the Qing Dynasty Emperor Yongzheng, including 37 items of the royal collections from the Palace Museum in Beijing and 209 items owned by the Taiwan museum.

Analysts say the loan of the Chinese artefacts to Taipei is a sign of warming ties between China and Taiwan.

Nevertheless, the Taiwanese say there will not be any loans going in the opposite direction until an agreement is reached about Beijing's claims on treasures still in Taipei.

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