Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Tuesday, 30 March 2010 11:13 UK

China and Australia swap criticism over Rio Tinto case

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (file image)
Mr Rudd said China had lost a chance to show a transparent legal system

China and Australia have traded criticism in the wake of the jailing of four Rio Tinto executives for corruption and commercial espionage.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that there were "serious unanswered questions" about the section of the trial held behind closed doors.

A Chinese spokesman accused Australia of making "irresponsible remarks" about the case, which ended on Monday.

The Shanghai court jailed the Rio Tinto group for between seven and 14 years.

The men - Australian Stern Hu and three Chinese colleagues - had admitted taking bribes. They were also convicted of stealing commercial secrets.

The part of their trial relating to commercial espionage was held in secret, with Australian diplomats barred.

China has made it absolutely clear that if we want to play on their manor, we play by their rules. And these are not rules that are necessarily consistent with western ideals of fair play and free trade.
Robert Peston, BBC business editor

Mr Rudd said this left "serious unanswered questions about this conviction".

"In holding this part of the trial in secret, China I believe has missed an opportunity to demonstrate to the world at large transparency that would be consistent with its emerging global role," he said.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the case could raise concerns for foreign companies doing business in China, saying it was not clear whether "we are dealing with what the international business community... would simply regard as the normal ebb and flow of commercial discussions or commercial information".

Asked about the case at a press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the Australian comments were cause for "serious concern".

"The Rio Tinto case is an individual criminal case and relevant judicial authorities have issued the verdict of the first trial.

"The Australian side should respect that result and should stop making such irresponsible remarks," he said.

'Unanswered questions'

Mr Rudd said that the case should not affect trade between the two countries. "I believe the bilateral relationship will sustain these sorts of pressures," he said.

But the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that the business community would seek clarity from Beijing on "unanswered questions that arise about foreign nationals doing business with state-owned enterprises in China" in the wake of the trial.

It said it would ask for clarification on aspects of the Chinese legal system, including detention periods and the lack of transparency seen in the Rio Tinto trial.

Rio Tinto has sacked the four men, who were involved in negotiations with Chinese steel mills to try to settle a price for China to buy iron ore from Australian mining companies at the time of their arrest in July 2009.

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