The U.S. State Department said Wednesday China's prosecution of prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo on subversion charges is an action uncharacteristic of a great country. Liu went on trial in Beijing after more than a year in detention for his role in writing a pro-democracy manifesto.

In its strongest language on the Liu case to date, the State Department says the prosecution of the dissident figure is a political trial that will likely lead to a political conviction and is an action that is uncharacteristic of a great country.

The comments, from Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley, came after trial proceedings against Liu, closed to his wife and foreign diplomats, in Beijing that lasted about two hours.

Liu, a former university professor, had spent the last year in detention for co-authoring a pro-democracy petition known as Charter '08 that called for major political reform in China, including democratic change and respect for human rights.

A verdict in the case is expected to be handed down Friday, with Liu facing a subversion conviction that could bring 15 years in prison.

In a talk with reporters, U.S. spokesman Crowley said that, as far as U.S. officials can ascertain, Liu's supposed crime was simply to sign a piece of paper that aspires to an open and participatory form of government for China.

He said such action is hardly criminal, and that the prosecution, in the face of calls from the United States and others for Liu's release, is a poor reflection on China and its political system.

"The speed of the trial, the fact that it was not open, the fact his family was not allowed to observe either, these are not hallmarks of a kind of government that is likely to be successful in the dynamic world of the 21st century. And, we will continue, as we have, to have frank discussions with China about its future and human rights within China. It is a fundamental aspect of our relationship with China," he said.

Crowley said the timing of the trial and the expected verdict on Friday, as the Christmas holiday is being celebrated in much of the world, is obviously intended to minimize attention to the case.

He said the trial was uncharacteristic of a great country, as was, he said China's intimidation of Cambodia that prompted the Phnom Penh government last Sunday to forcibly repatriate a group of 20 Chinese Uighurs, who sought political asylum there.

Earlier this week, Crowley said the United States was deeply disappointed, both with Cambodia for deporting the Uighurs without due process, and with China for bullying Cambodia into taking such action.

The State Department has urged China, now that the group has been returned there, to uphold international norms and ensure transparency, due process and proper treatment in the Uighurs' case.