17 Jul 2009

Australia warned not to interfere in Rio Tinto case

8:29 am on 17 July 2009

China has warned Australia not to interfere in the case of a Rio Tinto executive being held on accusations of spying.

Stern Hu, and three Chinese colleagues were arrested for bribery and espionage 12 days ago.

The ABC reports Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took a tough line against Beijing on Wednesday, warning that foreign governments and international companies with interests in China are watching developments closely.

Some in Australia have criticised China for not charging the men or informing Rio Tinto or the Australian Government what the accusations are.

China has also been criticised for not allowing their families to see them and for not allowing them access to a lawyer.

But Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang says it is not in Australia's interests for it to interfere with the independent judicial authority of China.

"We are firmly against anyone stirring up the case and interfering with the independent judicial authority of China," he said. "This is not in the interest of Australia."

Mr Qin also warned foreign companies doing business in China to respect Chinese rules.

"There is an old Chinese saying: 'a man of noble character acquires his wealth by honourable means'," he said.

"What [does] honourable mean? First it's the law. We request foreign enterprises in China to abide by the laws and regulations of China."

Mr Qin said that China attaches great importance to economic cooperation with Australia.

The Rio staff are reportedly accused of bribing local iron and steel industry personnel to get sensitive information relating to China's bottom line in iron ore price negotiations.

US to raise the issue

United States Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says he will raise the issue with the government in Beijing.

Mr Locke is on a three-day visit to Beijing. He says he will speak about the matter when he meets Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.