BEIJING -- The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a jailed democracy activist is a political attack on China, a Chinese leader said Friday, warning that countries acknowledging the honor would "bear the consequences."
The warning comes a day after several diplomats said China was pressuring European governments to avoid next month's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for Liu Xiaobo and not make any statements in support of him.
Since Liu was named winner of the prize one month ago, China has issued daily condemnations in state media and angry denunciations have come from its leading diplomats.
Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai called the awarding a "highly politicized event," and said foreign nations had a stark choice between challenging China's judicial system and developing friendly relations with Beijing.
"What image do they want to leave for the ordinary Chinese people? The choice is out there and it will be their own judgment to make their choice," Cui told reporters.
"If they make a wrong choice, they have to bear the consequences," he said.
Cui offered no elaboration, although China routinely punishes countries that defy its wishes with the cancelation of official exchanges and withholding of contracts for big-ticket items.
Beijing has already warned Norway that relations would suffer because of the award and has canceled or postponed a string of meetings with Norwegian officials and other Chinese-Norwegian events.
A commentary in Friday's People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper, said the prize had become "a tool for Western countries to impose peaceful evolution on powers which do not meet their standards."
China was targeted because of its growing power, the commentary said.
"The repeated bashing from the Nobel Peace Prize reflects the West's extreme fear of the rise of China. The West does not wish to see China, a powerful country that has made great success in so many respects, having a political regime which is different from those of the West."
Along with the repeated condemnations, Beijing appears to be stepping up diplomatic pressure over the issue. Two Western diplomats said the Chinese Embassy in Oslo has sent official letters to a number of European embassies in the Norwegian capital pushing them not to attend the Dec. 10 ceremony.
According to one of the diplomats in Beijing who said he has seen the letter, China cited its repeated position that Liu is a criminal for his advocacy of widespread political reforms and called the prize an interference in China's internal affairs.
The letter also urged embassies not to issue any public statements in support of Liu on the day of the ceremony, he said.
Finland and Iceland confirmed their embassies in Oslo had received a letter in which China expressed its views on Liu receiving the prize, and Sweden said it had received a letter from China but declined to disclose its contents.
The ambassadors of Denmark and the Netherlands didn't comment on the letter, but said they would attend the ceremony. Germany said it had received verbal information about the issue at its embassy in Oslo, but said its representative would nonetheless attend.
A British Foreign Office spokesperson said "the Chinese have raised the issue with us," but added the British ambassador intended to attend the ceremony as he normally does.
Liu, a writer and outspoken government critic, is serving an 11-year prison term for inciting subversion with Charter 08, a bold call for sweeping political reforms that he co-authored. His wife has been under house arrest since the award was announced in October.
Numerous world leaders, including President Barack Obama, have called for his release.
Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, declined to comment on the Chinese letter. He said more than 1,000 invitations had been sent out, including to all ambassadors to Norway. Even the Chinese ambassador received an invitation, but returned it without answering, Lundestad said.
It's unclear who will accept the prize on Liu's behalf. Dozens of Chinese activists and luminaries had been invited by Liu's wife to attend on her behalf because she believed mainland authorities will not let her go.
China's Foreign Ministry has not confirmed or denied that China had sent the letters.
The campaign against Liu is typical of the more aggressive, hardball diplomacy that China has used recently with European nations over visits by the Dalai Lama and other human rights issues.
The pressure on Western governments comes amid a clampdown on Chinese activists, lawyers and NGO groups who have supported Liu. Many have reported frequent police harassment and increased surveillance since the Nobel announcement.