A Hong Kong auctioneer says it will cancel bidding for a looted national relic next month if mainland authorities object - but handing it back for nothing is impossible. Hong Kong Auctions International Company plans to auction the sculpture on October 26, with bidding starting at $4 million. The bronze dog's head is one of 12 sculptures featuring the animals of the Chinese zodiac which were looted from the Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 when the Anglo-French armies invaded the capital of the Qing dynasty. Lum Kwong, Hong Kong Auctions' chief consultant, said they had consulted the central government on the auction but had not been given any advice on it. 'We haven't heard any comments or criticism about the auction. That's why we will proceed as scheduled,' he said. 'But if the Chinese government doesn't want us to go ahead, we will respect their views and will not carry out the auction.' Mr Lum said it was the company's goal to return as many national treasures as possible to China through auctions. But he said there was no guarantee that the relics would be eventually bought - and returned to the mainland - by rich Chinese patriots. The bronze dog's head caught Mr Lum's attention two years ago when he met a collector from New York who had inherited it. Mr Lum later persuaded the owner to auction the item. But Mr Lum said he had never discussed with the collector returning the bronze sculpture to the Chinese government for free. 'This is impossible as it is in a private collection,' he said, adding that there was no law governing the return of private collections. In 2000, three of the zodiac sculptures - the ox, tiger and monkey - were offered at two separate and controversial auctions by Christie's and Sotheby's. The Beijing-based state-funded China Poly Corporation eventually bought all three for $31.4 million. Mr Lum said his company had contacted the Poly group but was not sure if it would send anyone to the October auction. Poly group officials were not available for comment yesterday. A Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman yesterday said the government would not interfere in any commercial activities if they were done in accordance with the law.