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PARIS - 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 U.S. president.
In retaliation, the Chinese Foreign Ministry sanctioned several European nationals, including French Member of the European Parliament Raphaël Glucksmann.
A French foreign ministry official said France had summoned Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye over Beijing's tit-for-tat sanctions and to underscore the unacceptable nature of what it regards as insults and threats aimed at French lawmakers and a researcher.
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.
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.
Since then it has been in a Twitter row 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 spoken to 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 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. REUTERS