Beijing -- China on Thursday traded charges with the new U.S. administration of President George W. Bush, accusing his aides of interfering in its domestic affairs over the Falun Gong sect.
''China demands the U.S. government to respect the stand of the Chinese government on the Falun Gong issue and stop interfering in China's internal affairs on the excuse of Falun Gong, so as to avoid harming Sino-U.S. relations,'' Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said.
Zhu took issue with a statement from U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made an explicit criticism of China's alleged suppression of the banned Falun Gong sect during a meeting with the Chinese ambassador to Washington, Li Zhaoxing.
Li was paying a farewell call on Powell before leaving his post in Washington.
Powell reportedly urged China to show tolerance and respect for the rule of law in dealing with Falun Gong, which China calls an ''evil sect.''
''Any government with a sense of responsibility will not adopt a laissez-faire policy on such an evil cult,'' Zhu said.
On Jan. 1, Chinese police detained more than 100 Falun Gong followers after they held a New Year's Day protest in the Tiananmen Square.
In protest against the suppression, five members of the movement set themselves afire on the square Tuesday, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported the same day, adding one of them died.
Boucher urged the Chinese government to release all Falun Gong followers ''detained or imprisoned for peacefully exercising their internationally recognized rights to freedom of religion, freedom of belief and freedom of conscience.''
The U.S. renews its ''condemnation of China's crackdown on Falun Gong,'' Boucher said.