10 July 2009
Four employees of the Rio Tinto mining company have been detained by Chinese authorities. According to reports in China's state media, they are accused of stealing state secrets and bribing employees of Chinese steel companies.
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Stern Hu, an Australian who runs Rio Tinto's operations in Shanghai was the lead negotiator in the mining company's annual talks with Chinese steel makers over iron ore prices. China is the world's largest consumer of iron ore.
This year the negotiators failed to meet a deadline on June 30th to agree what's known as the benchmark price for supplies from Rio Tinto and the other big companies. The statement from the Shanghai office of the National Security Agency says Mr Hu and his colleagues used improper methods, including bribery,to obtain material from Chinese negotiators during the talks, according to media reports here.
Rio Tinto has denied that its employees were involved in spying. Australian diplomats say they've now been given permission to visit Mr Hu for the first time since he was detained on Monday. The country's foreign minister, Stephen Smith, says he's been given assurances by the Chinese the mining executive is being treated well.
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- lead negotiator
the main person who tries to help two groups reach an agreement with each other
- iron ore
the raw material from which iron ore can be obtained
a time or day by which something must be done
- benchmark price
a standard value of iron ore
an official written description
- improper methods
wrong or unsuitable ways of doing something
the act of trying to make someone do something by giving them money, presents or something else they want
the act of secretly gathering and reporting information about the activities of another country or organisation
to force someone officially to stay in a place, for example in a police station or in prison
- given assurances