China has rejected an offer from the long-time partner of French fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent to return two imperial bronze statues to Beijing if it agrees to protect human rights.
The bronze fountainheads of a rabbit and rat are due to be sold at a three-day Paris auction of art by the late French fashion designer this week. The auction began Tuesday.
Pierre Berge says he would be glad to return the statues if the Chinese government agreed to improve human rights, give liberty to the Tibetan people and welcome the Dalai Lama.
But at a news conference Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman (Ma Zhaoxu) called the proposal "ridiculous."
China opposes the sale of the artifacts, which it says were stolen from the Imperial Summer Palace by French and British troops during the Opium War (in the early 1840s).
On Monday, a French judge refused China's demand to stop the sale of the relics at the auction.
The Paris court also ordered the group that filed the suit -- the Association to Protect Chinese Art in Europe -- to pay court costs to Christie's auction house and Pierre Berge.
Christie's says it expects the Yves Saint Laurent collection of more than 700 pieces to fetch about $400 million. Berge says he plans to donate at least part of the money to medical research.