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China Missed Chance for Open Rio Trial, Rudd Says

Posted by Author on March 30, 2010

By Marion Rae, Bloomberg, via BusinessWeek-

March 30 (Bloomberg)
— China “missed an opportunity” to be transparent and give companies more confidence by hearing charges of industrial espionage against four Rio Tinto Group executives in secret, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.

China had the chance “to demonstrate to the world at large transparency that would be consistent with its emerging global role,” Rudd said in Melbourne today. There are “serious unanswered questions” about the conviction of Stern Hu, the Australian executive who led Rio’s iron ore unit in China.

Hu was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison by a court in Shanghai and colleagues Liu Caikui, Wang Yong and Ge Minqiang given prison terms of between seven and 14 years. They were found guilty of bribery and stealing commercial secrets after China’s anti-graft authorities vowed this year to crack down on corruption.

Australian officials were present when the court heard evidence about bribery charges against the four, who were accused of accepting money in exchange for giving priority access to iron ore to steel mills.

“Australia condemns bribery where ever it occurs,” Rudd said. “Australia also, however, has reservations about the manner in which the second charge, contained within this particular court case has been handled.”

Trade Pacts

The case frayed ties with Australia after Rio rejected a $19.5 billion investment from China last year. Rudd said he expects other pacts with China will survive the Hu ruling.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with a two- way relationship worth A$83 billion ($76 billion). Iron ore makes up half, or A$22.1 billion, of Australian exports to China. The country is also Australia’s largest source of overseas students and 15th largest investor.

The Rio trial raises questions about how global companies navigate a country when engaged in commercially sensitive issues such as iron ore price negotiations.

“There are real concerns in the business community now about the trend of China’s policy and whether in the years ahead China will be more or less open for foreign companies,” John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council, a trade group in Washington, told Bloomberg Television today.

A clear definition is needed between state secrets and commercial secrets, as confidence “does revolve around transparency,” he said……. (more details from Business Week)

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