Thursday, July 9, 2009

China claims proof Rio execs spied

ABC-The Chinese government says it has proof that four senior Rio Tinto executives detained in Shanghai stole state secrets.

Australian man Stern Hu, the head of Rio Tinto's China operations, has been detained in Shanghai along with three other Rio Tinto staff.

The Federal Government spoke to the Chinese Ambassador today and Chinese authorities have agreed to allow Australian officials to visit Mr Hu tomorrow.

China's Ministry of State Security says Mr Hu has been involved in espionage and stealing state secrets, but he has not been charged.

The arrest of Mr Hu has been the result of an independent judicial process, according to official Chinese government spokesman Qin Gang.

But his comments seem to suggest it will be hard for the chief of Rio Tinto's Shanghai operations to beat the allegations in a Chinese court.

Qin Gang says authorities have sufficient evidence to prove that Mr Hu and three other Rio employees have stolen state secrets and this has caused a huge loss to China's economic security.

He also warned against the politicisation of this issue, saying it would only hurt Australia.

But Australian politicians have weighed in on the matter since the news broke yesterday.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should personally intervene to secure Mr Hu's release.

"The Prime Minister must act immediately to ensure that our fellow Australian is treated fairly," Mr Turnbull said.

But Mr Rudd says the Government is doing all it can to secure Mr Hu's release, and he has accused Mr Turnbull of grandstanding.

"Let's not get engaged in this business of political grandstanding on the home front, let's get on with the practical business of supporting Australia in difficult circumstances and that is what the Foreign Minister and Australian officials are doing," Mr Rudd said.

"It's the right course of action."

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett says while he does not know the details of the arrest, he has contacted the Chinese consul general in Perth to express his concern.

Mr Barnett says the arrest of Mr Hu will add tension to the relationship between Australia and China which has already been strained by a number of business decisions in WA.

"Chinalco's seeming rejection by Rio Tinto - there is concern about BHP and Rio merging, there are issues relating to the Oakajee port and mid-west development," he said.

"I will be going to China at the end of next week and I'll be addressing each of those issues with Chinese business and Chinese government officials and hopefully can play a role in smoothing the waters."

The Government says it is staying in close contact with Mr Hu's wife and Rio Tinto.

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