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Several European countries including France and Germany have summoned Chinese envoys, intensifying a diplomatic dispute sparked by Western powers’ decision to impose sanctions on Beijing over its alleged human rights violations against Uighurs.
The moves on Tuesday came after China sanctioned a number of European officials in what was a retaliatory move for the punitive measures rolled out on it the previous day by the European Union, United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
China’s sanctions targeted several European nationals – five of whom are members of the European Parliament – and four institutions that it said had damaged the country’s interests and “maliciously spread lies and disinformation”.
Belgian legislator Samuel Cogolati and French Member of the European Parliament Raphael Glucksmann were among the 10 individuals singled out.
Responding to China’s move, EU members Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany all called in Chinese ambassadors on Tuesday.
The Chinese envoy to Belgium was expected to attend a meeting on Tuesday, an unnamed government source told the AFP news agency.
France also summoned China’s ambassador on Tuesday, Reuters news agency reported, citing an unnamed French foreign ministry source.
The decision underscored the unacceptable nature of insults and threats aimed at French legislators and a researcher, and Beijing’s decision to sanction some European officials, the source said.
Ambassador to France Lu Shaye was told of France’s disapproval of its decision to impose retaliatory sanctions during the meeting, the source added.
Shaye had already been summoned by the foreign ministry in April last year over posts and tweets by the embassy defending Beijing’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and criticising its handling by Western countries.
The Chinese embassy last week warned against French legislators meeting officials during an upcoming visit to self-ruled Taiwan, drawing a rebuff from France.
Since then it has been in a Twitter spat with Antoine Bondaz, a China expert at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, in which the embassy has described him as a “small-time thug” and “mad hyena”.
“It continues to be unacceptable and has crossed limits for a foreign embassy,” the French official said after Lu was received by the head of the foreign ministry’s Asia department.
The foreign ministry source, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Lu’s behaviour was creating an obstacle to improving relations between China and France.
The source added that Lu was “visibly shocked by the extremely direct character of what he was told” during Tuesday’s meeting and had tried to change the conversation to discuss Taiwan, which is viewed by China as a renegade province to be retaken with the use of force if necessary.
Germany too called in China’s ambassador for “urgent talks”, the country’s foreign ministry said.
“The Chinese ambassador, Wu Ken, was called in for urgent talks with state secretary Miguel Berger,” the ministry said.
Berger “made clear the German government’s view that China’s sanctions against European MPs, scientists and political institutions as well as non-governmental organisations represent an inappropriate escalation that unnecessarily strains ties between the EU and China”, it added.
Denmark also summoned China’s ambassador in the wake of Beijing’s sanctions, which included punitive measures against an organisation founded by a former Danish prime minister, the country’s foreign ministry said.
The Chinese envoy met officials at the Danish foreign ministry and was informed of Denmark’s displeasure with the moves, the ministry said.
“When China sanctions free, critical European politicians, institutions and dissidents, merely for having been critical against China, it is a clear attack on citizens’ freedom of expression in Europe and Denmark,” foreign minister Jeppe Kofod said in a statement.
Kofod also stressed that the Chinese sanctions were different from those of the EU.
“Let me emphasise that the EU’s sanctions only affect Chinese officials, who are directly responsible for gross human rights violations,” he said.