Rio Tinto case should not be politicized, Beijing says

10:18, March 19, 2010      

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China warned Thursday against politicizing the trial of four Rio Tinto employees, a case that has strained relations between Beijing and Canberra.

"It will not and should not be politicized," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters, adding that the case "should not have a negative impact on China-Australia relations."

Qin also repeated Beijing's pledges that the case would be handled according to Chinese laws.
His comments came after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's earlier remarks that the "world will be watching" next week's trial of Stern Hu and three Chinese colleagues on bribery and industrial espionage charges.

The three-day trial, taking place partly behind closed doors on Monday in Shanghai, will focus on alleged bribery and industrial espionage during fractious iron ore negotiations.

Sessions dealing with the bribery charges will be open to the public while the industrial espionage proceedings will be closed, the Shanghai No 1 Intermediate People's Court said on its website.

However, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said he hoped Australian officials would be able to attend the industrial espionage proceedings under a consular agreement with China.

"The consular agreement opens the prospect of our officials being present in the court for the commercial confidentiality charge," Smith said. "We have raised this matter with the Chinese authorities, asking for it to be reconsidered."

In response, Qin dismissed Smith's claims.

"We should not confound the consular agreement with sovereignty, especially judicial sovereignty," Qin said.

"The consular agreement between Australia and China must respect each country's sovereignty and judicial sovereignty. The decision of a closed-door trial was made based on Chinese law and attributes of the case, which must be respected by both sides.

"In accordance with the consular agreement, we are keeping in touch with Australian authorities about the case, making sure they are well-informed," Qin added.

Wan Xia, associate professor at the International Law Department of the China Foreign Affairs University, backed Qin's remarks.

"Under international law, the consular agreement between Beijing and Canberra is a bilateral convention that is legally binding. However, when applied in one of the two countries, the agreement can't override domestic legal procedure and must be adjusted," Wan said.

"For the Rio Tinto case, which is completely proceeded under Chinese law, the consular agreement is powerless. If the case were handled in Australia, China couldn't use the consular agreement as an excuse either.

"Meanwhile, under international law, China exercises territorial jurisdiction in the Rio Tinto case, which is higher then the personal jurisdiction that Australia exercises." Wan added.

David Martin Jones, an Asia- Pacific international relations expert from Queensland University, said Australia was trying to look tough without provoking China or endangering the trade relationship.

"They're displaying a certain amount of pressure but there's a reluctance to alienate China too much by taking too tough a line on it," he said. "I think they're hoping for a result with Stern Hu that will not lead to too harsh a punishment."

Source: Global Times
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