A US government advisory body says conditions for minority religions in China have deteriorated badly and has called on the US to make religious freedom and human rights a higher priority in its relations with Beijing. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom also received testimony about Beijing's oppression from representatives of Christian, Muslim, Tibetan Buddhist and Falun Gong groups on the mainland. Over the past year and a half, China had seen 'a marked deterioration in conditions of religious freedom and other human rights', commission chairwoman Felice Gaer said. While the number of arrests of Protestant Christians in China decreased last year, more unregistered churches were destroyed, said Xiqiu Fu of the China Aid Association. In addition, the authorities appeared to be arresting church leaders to put pressure on their congregations, he said. Michael Green, until last year an adviser to US President George W. Bush on Asia, said religious repression in China had increased since the presidency of Hu Jintao , who appeared to be under the influence of conservatives who believed minorities were a threat to stability. The Foreign Ministry dismissed the claims as 'groundless'. 'This so-called commission ... has again made a groundless attack ... on the religious and human rights situation in China,' ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a regular briefing yesterday, accusing the commission of interfering in China's internal affairs. 'We urge this commission to recognise China's real situation on freedom of religious belief and stop interfering in China's internal affairs. Chinese citizens enjoy broad and full freedom of religious belief that is recognised by all,' she said. The commission had invited several representatives from the US State Department to testify but all declined, which Ms Gaer said had 'disappointed' the commission. No one from China or the Chinese embassy in Washington was invited, but Beijing was apparently aware of the hearing's existence and implicitly threatened the minority believers who testified, some have said. 'We also understand that the Chinese government has delivered a demarche to the United States in which they characterised our distinguished first panel as 'enemies of China', a reference that has historically chilling implications,' Ms Gaer said. One member of the commission, Nina Shea, suggested that the minorities, in their dealings with Beijing, use the tactic of offering Hong Kong as an example of a stable, prosperous part of China that allows significant religious freedom.