China Tuesday demanded the auction of two looted historic bronze sculptures in Paris be canceled, saying it broke international conventions.
The auction seriously violates the country's cultural rights and interests, and hurts national sentiment, it said.
A Paris court on Monday ruled against stopping the sale of the sculptures, rejecting an appeal filed by the Association for the Protection of Chinese Art in Europe.
The sculptures, of rat and rabbit heads, are part of an art collection from the estate of French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, which went on sale at a Christie's auction that started in Paris on Monday.
The heads were taken from Beijing's Old Summer Palace when it was razed by invading French and British forces in 1860 during the Second Opium War.
"The State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) has formally informed the auctioneer of our strong opposition to the auction, and clearly demanded its cancellation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a news conference.
"The Western powers have plundered a great amount of Chinese cultural relics including many precious items robbed from the Old Summer Palace. All these should be returned to China," Ma said
SACH said Tuesday that it "strongly objected" to the auction and had written to Christie's asking it to stop the auction.
"We believe there is a common understanding in the international community that looted cultural objects should be returned to their countries. This is a basic cultural right of people in the origin countries," the SACH statement said.
"We requested they stop the auctions and hope the parties (to the auction) understand and respect this proper request from Chinese people," it said.
Song Xinchao, director of the SACH museum department, reiterated Tuesday that China would not buy back the bronzes that rightfully belong to the country.
The auction comes at a time when both China and France are cautiously trying to improve bilateral relations which suffered a setback after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama late last year.
Ren Xiaohong, a Chinese lawyer involved in the bid to stop the auction, said the lawsuit aims to "raise awareness among the public in Europe" about the fate of the numerous looted Chinese relics.
Chinese netizens are furious about the planned auction. An online survey conducted by ifeng.com showed more than 90 percent of the netizens want the bronzes back.
According to the UNESCO Convention on Stolen and Illegally Exported Cultural Objects, any cultural relics looted or lost during wars should be returned without any limitation of time span.
Meanwhile, Chinese lawyers will "make every effort" to halt the auction despite the unfavorable court ruling, said Li Xingfeng, one of the 81 lawyers involved in the bid to stop the auction. But he refused to elaborate on what they would do.
"If they are sold, we will start legal proceedings against the buyer," he said.