Australia PM raises Rio case with China

HUA HIN, Thailand Sat Oct 24, 2009 8:30am EDT

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd arrives at Hua Hin airport for the 15th ASEAN Summit at the resort city of Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan province October 24, 2009. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd arrives at Hua Hin airport for the 15th ASEAN Summit at the resort city of Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan province October 24, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Sukree Sukplang

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HUA HIN, Thailand (Reuters) - Leaders from China and Australia discussed on Saturday the issue of an Australian detained in China on suspicion of corporate espionage, but there was no resolution in a case that has strained their relations.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he raised the issue with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during an Asian leaders summit in Thailand, expressing concern over the continued detention of Stern Hu, an Australian executive of mining giant Rio Tinto.

Hu and three of his Chinese colleagues were detained by Chinese authorities in early July on suspicion of stealing state secrets. The following month they were formally arrested on charges of stealing commercial secrets, but not the more serious state secrets charge.

"In the discussion I had with Premier Wen I indicated we had continuing consular matters which need to be resolved between our foreign ministries and this included representatives of the Australian company Rio Tinto," Rudd told reporters.

But he said overall relations with Beijing were "strong and in good shape."

Asked about how quickly the case might be resolved, Rudd said: "It is under continued and close discussion between the two foreign ministries. We confirmed that process was ongoing."

Earlier this month, China extended by a month the investigation into the case.

Rudd added the case was "the subject of intense and continuing discussion between our two foreign ministries."

"My purpose in raising these matters today was simply to highlight the fact that this a continual matter of concern to Australia and I will continue to do so in the future."

Two-way trade last year between China and Australia was worth $53 billion, but relations have been strained by incidents including the Rio arrests, the failure of Chinese state-owned metals firm Chinalco's $19.5 billion bid to raise its stake in Rio and the Australian government's granting of a visa to an exiled Uighur activist.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch. Writing by Jason Szep. Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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