China-France tensions rocket as Beijing ambassador threatens lawmakers in Twitter row

China: Expert discusses ‘threats’ directed at French lawmakers

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France summoned China’s ambassador on Tuesday to underscore the unacceptable nature of insults and threats aimed at French lawmakers and a researcher, and Beijing’s decision to sanction some European officials, a French foreign ministry source said. Ambassador to France Lu Shaye had already been summoned by the foreign ministry last April over posts and tweets by the embassy defending Beijing’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and criticising the West’s handling of it. The Chinese embassy last week warned against French lawmakers 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 official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Lu’s behaviour was creating an obstacle to improving relations between China and France.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials on Monday for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, in the first such coordinated Western action against Beijing under new U.S President Joe Biden.

In retaliation, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sanctioned several European nationals, including French Member of the European Parliament Raphael Glucksmann.

The envoy had been told of France’s disapproval of that decision, the French official said, adding that Lu was “visibly shocked by the extremely direct character of what he was told” and had tried to change the conversation to discuss Taiwan.

It comes as France, Germany and other European countries called in China’s ambassadors in their capitals on Tuesday to protest at Beijing’s response to European Union sanctions on Chinese officials accused of involvement in human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

The European Union joined the United States, Britain and Canada in imposing the sanctions on Monday, the first such coordinated Western action against Beijing since Joe Biden became US president.

China: Yang Xiaoguang says sanctions from UK are 'unfair'

Germany, traditionally milder in its criticism of a country with which it has deep economic relations, also called in the Chinese ambassador in Berlin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels.

“We wanted to make it very, very clear that the EU’s sanctions target individuals who have violated human rights,” Maas said. “And that sanctions against legislators and scholars are totally unacceptable to us.”

Denmark also joined the chorus of criticism, with Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod saying in a statement that the Chinese sanctions were “a clear attack on…freedom of expression”.

But it was France that reacted most sharply, summoning Lu, who has long raised eyebrows in Paris for his outspokenness.

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The Chinese embassy in Paris last week warned against French lawmakers meeting officials during an upcoming visit to self-ruled Taiwan, drawing a rebuff from France.

The envoy was previously called in by the French foreign ministry last April over posts and tweets by the embassy defending Beijing’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and criticising the West’s handling of it.

China’s embassy in Paris did not respond to emails or calls for comment.

In a Tweet on Monday, the embassy said the envoy would go to the foreign ministry on Tuesday to discuss the EU sanctions and questions linked to Taiwan.

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