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Australia presses China to explain Rio detentions
Wed Jul 8, 2009 12:59am EDT
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SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) - Australia pressed China on Wednesday to explain why four staff of Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto had been detained amid tense negotiations over iron ore exports to China.
Rio has been locked in difficult talks with China's huge steel sector since refusing to submit to Chinese demands for a bigger cut in contract prices and instead shipping material on the spot market.
A state-owned China company also recently failed in a massive $19.5 billion investment bid in Rio.
Australian Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the government was making "every effort" to find out why the four China-based employees had been held.
The four, including an Australian citizen, were part of Rio Tinto's iron ore sales team.
"Once we ascertain through the appropriate channels what exactly is going on and what the reasons for this detention involve ... we'll have something to say," Combet told reporters.
Two Chinese steel industry sources told Reuters on Wednesday the staff had been detained in Beijing, though Rio Tinto had said that the detained staff were from its Shanghai office.
The sources, who asked not be identified because they were not allowed to speak to foreign media, said they suspected Chinese steel executives might also have been detained, though they did not know the reason.
China's Foreign Ministry and Shanghai police made no immediate comment, while a spokesman for China's embassy in Canberra also declined to comment.
AVOID A DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT
The Age newspaper in Australia said in an editorial on Wednesday that the Rio employees' safety was the priority and that the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd "needs to take clear and decisive action while avoiding a potential diplomatic stand-off with Australia's largest trading partner."
Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and China expert, is in Europe this week for talks with other world leaders.
Rio Tinto declined to add to its original statement that the four employees appeared to have been detained by Chinese authorities, and that the reason was unclear.
"We haven't been able to make contact with them since and we've asked the Chinese authorities for an explanation and we haven't received anything from them," a Rio Tinto spokesman said.
Three of the four being detained by the Public Security Bureau are Chinese citizens, the Sydney Morning Herald said. Its sister paper, The Age, named the Australian as Stern Hu.
Rio said the Shanghai office was mainly a sales and marketing office for the company, the world's second-biggest iron ore producer, which is listed in London and Australia. Continued...
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