WASHINGTON (AP) _ Religious persecution in China is the exception, not the rule, the leader of a government-approved church organization said Monday.

``There is a church in China ... young, weak, but growing,'' said Rev. Han Wenzao, president of the China Christian Council, an organization that oversees government-approved Protestant churches.

Half way through a three-week visit to meet with American church officials, Han held a press conference Monday in the Chinese Embassy and questioned a recent U.S. State department report that said religious persecution increased last year in China.

``I don't think that's the case,'' said Han, asserting that things in China today have changed ``a great deal'' since the brutal days of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s through 70s.

``That period really was mass persecution _ all churches closed down, bibles burned,'' he said.

Han said that in the last 20 years, 13,000 churches have reopened and 23 million Bibles have been printed.

``Now, on the whole, generally speaking, the policy is freedom,'' he said, adding that because China is so vast, there are violations of the policy in different provinces and by different local authorities.

Nondenominational Protestant churches must register with the government before they legally can hold services in China. The State Department and human rights organizations have reported that worshipers who don't register their churches have been subjected to increasing suppression in the last year, with police breaking up services and arresting participants.

The size of such underground churches in China is not known, but some estimates range up to 10 times the size of the official church of 12 million.

The United States last week asked the U.N. Human Rights Commission to confront China on its rights policies. China's human rights record has ``deteriorated markedly,'' Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the U.N. panel, suggesting a U.S. resolution that would cite ``widespread denials of political, cultural, labor and religious freedom in China.''