China is accusing four Shanghai-based executives of Anglo-Australian mining
company Rio Tinto of bribing Chinese steelmakers to obtain information during
negotiations over global iron ore prices. They were all recently detained in
China on spying charges. Australian officials have met with the four mining
Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says
Australian staff have met with Rio Tinto employee Stern Hu, who, along with
three others, has been detained in China.
"Australian consulate officials
will conduct a consular visit on Mr. Stern Hu, who as you know has been detained
on suspicion of espionage and stealing state secrets," said Smith.
born in China but is an Australian citizen. The other three are local Chinese
The China Securities Journal
newspaper Friday cited a
Chinese Ministry of State Security statement as saying Hu and the three other
Rio Tinto employees tried to bribe Chinese steelmakers during tense iron ore
price negotiations this year.
The paper said these actions seriously
damaged China's economic security and interests, and violated Chinese
Hu was the Shanghai-based manager of Rio's Chinese iron ore
Rio Tinto is the world's third-largest mining
company. It is acting as lead negotiator for global iron ore producers in price
talks with Chinese steel mills. China is pushing for sharp price cuts following
years of repeated increases.
The detentions come shortly after Rio Tinto
turned down a multibillion dollar deal with Chinese state metals firm
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in
Beijing Thursday that the two cases are not related.
Qin said the
detention of Stern Hu is an independent judiciary case. He said Chinese
authorities had collected "sufficient evidence" that Hu and the others had
stolen state secrets, before they took any action.
He also said it is not
proper to exaggerate this case or, in his words, "politicize it," saying this
would not be good for Australia.
China is Australia's second-largest
export customer, just behind Japan. In the other direction, Australia this year
was one of the largest recipients of Chinese investment.