Rio Tinto trial ignites China trade tension

City A.M. Reporter
CHINA warned Australia not to make “irresponsible” comments about the trial of four employees of mining firm Rio Tinto yesterday after Canberra said the trial had left questions about China’s legal system.

Verbal sparring over the conviction of Australian citizen Stern Hu and three colleagues underlined foreign investors’ concers about legal transparency in China and the potential for conflict between the trading partners.

“In holding 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,” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.

But Rudd, keen to draw a line under the squabble with its top export partner, said disagreement over the trial would not hit the booming trade between the two countries.

A Shanghai court convicted the four Rio Tinto men of taking bribes and stealing commercial secrets, handing out jail terms on Monday ranging between seven and 14 years.

“We express serious concern about the Australian statements on the Rio Tinto case. The Rio case is a criminal case, and the Chinese side has already given its verdict,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said. “Australia should respect this outcome and stop making irresponsible comments.”

Rio immediately sacked its four employees, who had pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks. All but one contested separate charges of stealing commercial secrets.