Canberra summons top Chinese envoy yet again

MELBOURNE: Australia today summoned China’s top envoy for the third time in a week as it came under fresh pressure to win the freedom of a senior mining executive detained as a “spy” in Shanghai. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said officials pressed acting ambassador Hong Liang for details about Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, whose arrest has cast a shadow over a key trading and diplomatic relationship.

“This is the third time that (the foreign ministry) has spoken to the acting ambassador since last Monday. Australian officials will make the same points in Beijing,” Smith said in a statement sent to AFP. Hu was arrested on July 5 and has been accused of espionage and stealing state secrets by bribing staff at Chinese steel companies during protracted iron ore price negotiations.

Consular officials were given access to Hu on Friday, and said he was being treated well. However, diplomatic protocols provide for no further meetings for another month.

Beijing is yet to detail

the allegations against Hu, who led the iron ore negotiations, but it says it can prove its claims. A Chinese official today said the talks were continuing despite the arrest of Hu and three colleagues. The fast-growing Asian giant has become the world’s biggest buyer of iron ore, the main ingredient in steel.

Meanwhile Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner said “yelling

and screaming” would not help Hu, as opposition attacks

increased on the government’s handling of the case. “Ultimately there is a task here for the

Australian government, and that is to maximise the person

concerned’s prospects of regaining his freedom,” Tanner told

reporters. “That means the

situation has to be dealt with intelligently and carefully, not with the megaphone.”