Australia on Tuesday said diplomats in Shanghai had met a detained Rio Tinto executive for a second time and dismissed a report accusing the company of industrial espionage costing China 100 billion dollars.
The foreign affairs department said consular staff were last week permitted their second monthly prison visit with Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu since he was arrested on July 5 and accused of spying and stealing state secrets.
“We can confirm that another consular visit took place on Friday, 7 August at Mr Hu’s place of detention,” a spokeswoman told AFP. “Mr Hu appeared well and raised no health or welfare concerns.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said the government was pleased that Hu’s “health and welfare continues to be in good order.”
“We’ve reported that visit to his employer and to his family, and we continue to urge the Chinese authorities to deal with their investigation expeditiously,” Smith told state broadcaster ABC radio.
“We’re not in a position to discuss the details of his case or any possible charges against him, but we have raised both at that particular visit and generally the question of legal representation for Stern Hu,” he added.
Smith also played down a report, carried on a website of China’s State Secrets Bureau at the weekend, that Rio waged a six-year industrial espionage campaign that cost Beijing more than 100 billion US dollars.
He said the report’s later withdrawal from the site showed it was not an official view and would have no bearing on Hu’s case.
“It’s now quite clear given that the article has been taken off the website, that it was essentially the opinion of the writer and not, if you like, officially sanctioned,” Smith said.
Rio also noted the article’s removal but declined to comment further. The Chinese official who made the accusations later said he was only stating his personal views.
“Those detailed allegations, as you would have seen, were actually withdrawn,” a spokeswoman told AFP.
“We didn’t have anything to say at the time (they were published) and we don’t have anything to say now.”
Hu, an Australian passport-holder, is accused of bribing Chinese steel mill officials during tough iron ore contract negotiations.
His arrest along with three Chinese colleagues followed Rio’s snubbing of a major cash injection from a Chinese company, raising speculation the events were linked.