China stepped up its criticism of the United States Wednesday for inviting a leading dissident to a dinner given by President Bush, saying the action was disrespectful and irresponsible.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that inviting astrophysicist Fang Lizhi to the banquet was "an act of imposing one's own will on others." It "can only be interpreted as a support to this kind of people and disrespect for the host country," the statement said.Chinese police stopped Fang, his wife and an American couple they were traveling with en route to the banquet Sunday at a Beijing hotel.

Dozens of police thwarted their efforts to get a taxi or bus and trailed them as they walked across town to the U.S. ambassador's residence.

China said Monday in a statement that it resented the invitation, implying that the United States should have consulted first with China.

The latest Chinese statement used even stronger language, saying the United States had "bypassed normal channels" in sending the invitation.

"From the very beginning the Chinese side has repeatedly made solemn and just representations to the U.S. side and the U.S. side expressed its willingness to seek ways to solve the problem.

"We are surprised at the irresponsible remarks (the United States) has made now and express our deep regret."

The U.S. Embassy has refused to confirm it knew ahead of time the Chinese were angry over the invitation and has insisted it was surprised by the police action against Fang.

By contrast with the Chinese, the United States has been restrained in its public remarks. Bush told the Chinese before leaving Beijing on Monday that he regretted the police action against Fang, and U.S. Ambassador Winston Lord reiterated the message later in a meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Zhu Qizhen.