Australia urges access to Rio trial

Australia urged China yesterday to allow its diplomats full access to the trial of four Rio Tinto staff charged with commercial spying in a case that could hurt political and economic ties.

“The world will be watching how this particular court case is conducted,” said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, adding the Australian government would do everything necessary to support the interest of the Anglo-Australian miner’s staff.

China’s foreign ministry warned Australia against “politicising” the trial, which begins on Monday. The detention of the four, along with Google’s dispute over Internet censorship and hacking complaints, has stoked investors’ worries about doing business in China.

The case initially caused tensions between Australia and China. Ties have since recovered, yet could again be soured depending on the outcome of the trial.

China arrested four Rio staff members, including Australian citizen Stern Hu, last July and will start their trial in Shanghai on 22 March on charges of bribery and stealing business secrets. The trial will be open to hear bribery charges and closed to deal with charges of infringement of commercial secrets. Australian diplomats want to have access to the latter under a consular pact with Beijing.