United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has landed in a diplomatic row with Beijing over the awarding of a UN agency prize to an imprisoned Chinese journalist. China yesterday condemned Unesco for naming jailed writer Gao Yu as the recipient of its world press freedom prize. Gao, 53, is serving a six-year sentence on charges of revealing state secrets. In a protest coinciding with an official visit by Mr Annan, the Foreign Ministry accused the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation of 'rudely interfering' in China's internal affairs. Mr Annan refused to comment on China's protest for fear of 'escalating it into an issue', he said. But, in a statement, he said human rights, including freedom of speech, remained 'an essential element of the world of today'. 'When we look around us today, we see an incredible desire for democracy from people everywhere,' Mr Annan said after talks with the State Council. Beijing's Unesco protest came as Mr Annan met President Jiang Zemin and other senior officials on his first official visit to Beijing since winning election as UN secretary-general last December. 'I do not find the timing inconvenient or embarrassing for my visit,' Mr Annan said. 'I'm not sure there's an issue yet,' he said. China has threatened to boycott Unesco over the Gao prize but Unesco representatives in Beijing said their operations had so far been unaffected. Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang yesterday warned the freedom prize would influence China's co-operative relations with the international agency. 'Gao Yu was punished because she violated Chinese law,' Mr Shen said.