China has banned a meeting by AIDS activists on the rights of people with the disease.

The conference would have brought together 50 Chinese and foreign experts and activists to discuss how to press the legal rights of people with HIV/AIDS.

But Chinese government authorities told the Asian Catalyst group to cancel the meeting planned for early August in Guangzhou near Hong Kong.

China had 203,527 officially registered cases of HIV/AIDS by the end of April, up from 183,733 at the end of October 2006. Of the latest figure, 52,480 had progressed to full-blown AIDS.

But the UN estimates the true number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country to be around 650,000.

Beijing now backs campaigns to educate citizens on avoiding infection, and victims infected through reckless commercial blood collection in rural Henan province have been given free medicines.

But officials in the one-party state remain wary of local activists and foreign groups pressing legal claims of infected citizens or raising official complicity in the spread of the disease.

Henan has informally blocked patients from suing officials over tainted blood.

The meeting co-organised with China Orchid AIDS Project had invited several experts from South Africa, India, the US, Canada and Thailand.

Planned topics included discrimination, blood safety and setting up a legal aid center for people with HIV/AIDS.

In May, China barred a prominent AIDS and environmental activist couple from leaving the country, accusing them of endangering national security.

Earlier in the year, Henan officials tried to stop a doctor who helped expose the rural AIDS epidemic there from going to Washington to collect a human rights award. They let her go after an international outcry.