Australia Wants To Meet China FM On Rio Case

While pressing China for quick resolution to case of a Rio Tinto manager accused of espionage, Australian foreign minister hoped to meet his Chinese counterpart soon.

PHUKET, Thailand (AP) -- Australia pressed China again Wednesday for a quick resolution to the case of a Rio Tinto manager accused of espionage while acknowledging it will not be settled with one meeting of the two sides.

Speaking on the sidelines of a regional conference, the Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith said he still hoped to meet his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi about the matter in the next day. But he dismissed suggestions that failing to meet would represent a setback in the contentious case.

Australian citizen Stern Hu, the manager of Rio's Chinese iron ore business, and three Chinese co-workers were detained July 5 during iron ore price talks with Chinese steel mills. State media say they are accused of bribing Chinese steel company employees to get information on China's negotiating stance.

"The Stern Hu matter is not a matter which is going to be solved or addressed by ministers meeting each other," Smith told reporters. "It is not going to be solved by one phone call or one meeting as I've seen people suggest."

Australia is a major supplier of iron ore and other minerals to resource-hungry China.

Smith, who has voiced frustration that Australia has had to rely on Chinese media reports to glean details of Hu's case, said his government now has a much better sense of the allegations against Hu, though "we have no basis for determining the soundness of them."

"It is quite clear that the detention and investigation relates strictly to economic or commercial matters relating to iron ore negotiations," Smith said. "It is also the case that the Chinese have a much broader or wider view of what Australia might describe as state security, state secret or national security matters."

Smith said he hoped the investigation will be "conducted expeditiously" and that if charges are laid against Mr. Hu, "that is also done expeditiously."

A Chinese diplomat said Wednesday that China has told Australia it has "ample evidence" that Hu and his three co-workers stole state secrets. He Yafei, a deputy foreign minister, told reporters in Beijing that he briefed Smith on the case at a conference last week in Egypt.

AP Business Writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this story.