Friday, July 24, 2009

Hu 'likely 'persona non grata'

( -STERN Hu, the Australian businessman detained in China on suspicion of spying and stealing state secrets, is likely to be declared persona non grata and thrown out of the country, a US think tank says.

Private sector intelligence group Stratfor says China is now seeking to dampen what has turned into a diplomatic row between China and Australia and attracted worldwide attention.

Much of the worldwide business community has cited China's detention of Mr Hu as a cause for concern.

Mr Hu, an Australian citizen who was in charge of Rio Tinto's iron ore operations, was arrested on July 5 on suspicion of spying and stealing state secrets. (JEG's: if they were secret how could they be stolen?)

The Shanghai-based executive is yet to be charged, 18 days after he was first detained.

Earlier this week, it emerged that China's Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei had told Foreign Minister Stephen Smith on July 17 that Chinese officials were now emphasising only the bribery charges and not espionage charges relating to national security. (JEG's: because the charges are false, that is why they are only "emphasising"...)

Stratfor said that was a significant shift, even though Mr He made sure to say that commercial matters could still fall under the Chinese definition of state secrets. "It is likely that the charges against Hu will be considerably less than if he were tried for espionage, which can result in a death sentence," it said. "The most likely scenario is that Hu will be given persona-non-grata status and shipped back to Australia, unable to return to China."

Stratfor said this was a relatively common punishment for foreigners accused of espionage, as seen in the 2001 cases of Chinese-Americans Wu Jianming and Li Shaomin, who were deported after being convicted of spying for Taiwan.

Stratfor said China would not let this matter go without some form of punishment for Mr Hu and three other Rio employees who were also detained. To do so would cause China to lose face amid criticism from around the world that China's actions were solely self-serving attempts to intimidate a foreign company (*) in order to give domestic companies an edge, Stratfor said.

"However, if the Australians can find a compromise - possibly getting Rio to soften its stance in the iron ore price negotiations, or ensure some investment opportunities in Australia - then it looks like China may be willing to play nice,
(*)" it said.

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