BEIJING – China assailed the United States on Monday for listing it as a country that violates religious freedoms. The State Department list released last week included China among Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan as places where people cannot practice their faiths freely.
"The United States' action violates the basic rules of international relations, and constitutes a rude intervention in the internal affairs of another country," Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
"We demand the United States respect the truth, and stop interfering in China's internal affairs under the pretext of religion," Jiang said in a statement posted on the ministry's Web site.
John V. Hanford III, U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, said China has seen "a little progress" but "certainly has not made the sort of progress that we need to see in a systemic way to remove them" from the list.
The State Department report said "China maintains tight control over all religions and has cracked down hard on groups not sanctioned by the ruling Communist Party. Those who practice Falun Gong, a banned spiritual movement, or who attend underground Protestant or Catholic churches routinely face detention, harassment and sometimes imprisonment."
It added the government tries to control religious organizations to prevent the rise of any group that could become a source of authority outside of the control of the government and the Chinese Communist Party.
Jiang said China expressed its "strong dissatisfaction" with the report. She said the government guaranteed the right of religious freedom under the country's constitution and that various ethnic and regional groups "enjoy broad and adequate freedom of religious belief."
Chinese Christians are officially permitted to worship only in churches run by state-monitored Protestant or Christian groups, which say they have 11 million followers.
But many more attend underground churches, whose total membership is estimated at up to 60 million. Clergy and members of such unofficial churches are often jailed and harassed.
Similar state-sanctioned groups run temples and mosques for Buddhists, Taoists and Muslims.