Rio Tinto executive held in China

MELBOURNE: Australia said it was seeking urgent access to an Australian executive of mining giant Rio Tinto who has been detained in China for unknown reasons along with three colleagues.

The executive, named by local media as Stern Hu, has reportedly been held in Shanghai since Sunday. Rio is currently engaged in high-stakes negotiations with China over lucrative iron ore contracts.

"The Australian embassy in Beijing and our consulate-general in Shanghai have confirmed with the Chinese authorities that an Australian employee of Rio Tinto Australia has been detained," a foreign affairs spokeswoman said in a statement.

"We are seeking urgent consular access (and are) not yet able to comment on the reason for his detention," she said, adding Australian officials were in contact with Hu's family and his employer.

The Anglo-Australian company earlier announced that four male staff had been detained in Shanghai but said the reason remained "unclear." Australian reports said the other three men were Chinese passport-holders.

"It appears four employees from Rio Tinto's Shanghai office have been detained for questioning by the Chinese authorities in Shanghai," Rio said in a statement from London.

"The reasons for these actions are unclear. Rio Tinto intends to co-operate fully with any investigation the Chinese authorities may wish to undertake and has sought clarification on what has occurred."

A Shanghai Public Security Bureau spokeswoman could not give any details or even confirm the men had been detained.

"We are not on top of the situation at the moment. We will let you know if we have any information to release," the spokeswoman told AFP.

The debt-laden company frustrated Chinese officials last month when it snubbed a 19.5 billion US dollar cash injection from the state-owned Chinalco, opting for a rights issue and joint venture with BHP Billiton instead.

Rio has also spearheaded negotiations with China over this year's benchmark price for iron ore contracts, which last week missed a key deadline.

China, the world's biggest iron ore consumer, was seeking a deeper cut than the 33 percent reduction negotiated with Japan and South Korea, while Rio has said its customers are welcome to buy at spot prices.