China has lashed out at a U.S. report critical of Chinese policies on religious freedom, saying such criticism could harm U.S. - China relations.

In its annual report issued Wednesday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said China continues to be responsible for pervasive and severe violations of religious freedom, regularly imprisoning and harassing religious leaders and practitioners.

In a statement Saturday Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao accused the U.S. body of attempting to interfere with Chinese internal affairs under the guise of religious freedom. He said such criticism runs counter to the good development of U.S - China relations.

Liu said China protects the religious freedom of Chinese citizens according to law, and that citizens enjoy full freedom of religion.

China's communist government allows worship only in state-approved and state-monitored churches, temples and mosques. People who worship in unauthorized ways are subject to arrest.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.