Australia trade minister Simon Crean has called on Beijing to lay charges or release detained Rio Tinto sales executive Stern Hu, an Australian citizen, and three Chinese colleagues. The four men are accused of stealing state secrets in connection with the iron-ore price negotiations earlier this year. Rio had denied the allegations. The quartet has been in detention since July 5th without charge as Chinese law allows.
Trade relations between the two countries increasingly risk being harmed, Crean says, without the case being settled one way or the other. The Australian met his Chinese counterpart, Chen Deming, at the APEC trade ministers’ meeting in Singapore, where the issue came up and we understand Crean made his government’s position crystal clear.
China is Australia’s biggest trade partner, with iron ore exports to China accounting for $14 billion of $53 billion in bilateral trade, so the case is more likely to proceed at China’s pace than Canberra’s. And with the iron-ore price negotiations dragging past their June 30 deadline, no bargaining chips are going to be given away cheaply.