China on Tuesday described as arrogant and ignorant the new US report on the state of religious freedom in the world that specifically targetted China, Pakistan and Iran among other countries.
It added that as a sovereign country China has the right to crackdown on violence instigated in the name of religion and human rights.
The annual State Department report released on Monday said there had been "a marked deterioration during 2011 in the government's respect for and protection of religious freedom" in China. It added that there was "severe" repression of religious freedom in Tibetan areas and the far western region of Xinjiang, home to a significant number of Muslims.
China's response was prompt and strong.
"The annual report, largely based on unconfirmed media reports and groundless allegations from outlawed groups and organizations with ulterior motives, is nothing but a political tool used by the US government to exert pressure on other countries, mostly deemed as its rivals," China said through a commentary published in the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Both Tibetan areas in southwest China and Xinjiang in the remote northwest of the country have seen protests in the recent past.
In Tibetan areas, Xinhua said the self-immolations were politically motivated, and part of a "scheme" by supporters of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, whom China accuses of trying to separate Tibet from China.
Incidents in Xinjiang have also been attributed by China to separatist elements from across the border.
"Only a few members from banned cults and illegal extremist religious organizations, which engage in illegal or splittist activities under the guise of seeking religious freedom, have been punished in China strictly according to the laws," the Xinhua commentary said
China, it said, has already made great strides in consolidating the rule of law to ensure the protection of religious freedom so that all practitioners of lawful religions can practice their faith freely. "In today's China, no one will be persecuted just because he or she is affiliated with any of the lawful religions."
Xinhua added that as a sovereign country, China has every right to maintain its social stability and territorial integrity by cracking down on "religious extremism, splittism and terrorism which advocate violence in the name of seeking religious freedom and human rights."