Britain will face severe diplomatic and economic punishment in response to the "pointless" posturing of its foreign policy toward China, Beijing warned the Government on Wednesday.
An editorial in the Global Times, a state-run newspaper, said William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, had put Britain in the line of fire by holding out for a strong line against China.
The editorial followed reports last weekend of a split in the British Cabinet, with the David Cameron and George Osborne, the Chancellor, much keener on a good relationship with China.
"If Britain and China start competing over who can be tougher against the other, can Britain be the winner?" the editorial asked. Attempting to challenge Beijing's position was a "pointless game", it said.
Britain has been frozen out by senior Chinese leaders since Cameron and Clegg met the Dalai Lama last May. There has been no ministerial contact with China other than brief encounters at world summits such as the G20.
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Beijing said there were no concrete plans for any high-level meetings in the coming months.
Hague is said to feel lukewarm about Britain's relationship with China. Since he became Foreign Secretary nearly three years ago, he has made only a single, one-day visit, in July 2010.
He is said to be far more enthusiastic about India and last year spent two days on a "diplomatic offensive" in Brazil.
The Treasury argues that Britain's approach is jeopardising Chinese investments at a time when London is pushing to become a global trading centre for the yuan.
"Clegg [and] Hague suggest being tough against China," said the Global Times editorial, published on Wednesday. "But leaders like Cameron believe Britain should ease tensions with Beijing to help recover the economy."
Any "reckless moves against China's interests" would be met with a strong response, added the nationalist newspaper, which is backed by hardliners in the ruling Communist Party.
"Once China adopts political and economic counter measures, they can hardly bear the suffering."
"China has more leverage than Britain has in their bilateral relations.
"China cultivating more contacts with separatists in Northern Ireland and Scotland would make London quite uncomfortable. China's GDP is close to that of Germany's, France's and Britain's combined.
"Perhaps it's time for Britain to change its way of thinking. Chinese now don't want to be bothered by such tough posturing."
A Beijinh Embassy spokesman said Mr Cameron's "private" meeting with the Dalai Lama was "one of many factors" behind the lack of high-level contact between the two governments.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph earlier this month, China's former ambassador to Britain, Ma Zhengang, said: "To translate the potential of China-UK cooperation into reality there must be greater mutual trust between the two countries, in political, economic and other areas.
"To borrow an expression now popular in China, we want more 'positive energy' from China-UK cooperation."