Rudd Govt. in "worst foreign policy crisis" following China's Rio Tinto GM arrest

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Melbourne, July 11 (ANI): The Australian Government's open support to the Shanghai-based Australian general manager of iron ore mining company, Hu Stern, who has been arrested on espionage charges in China, is set to put the Kevin Rudd government in the worst foreign policy crisis since taking office in November 2007.

"Frankly, it is difficult for a nation like Australia to see a relationship between espionage and national security and what appeared to be suggestions about commercial or economic negotiations," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in the wake of Australian consular officials gaining access to Hu for the first time since his arrest last Sunday.

Hu, a Chinese-born Australian and the head of Rio Tinto's iron ore operations in China, has spent almost a week in detention without being charged, The Australian reports.

Earlier, Smith has suggested that what passed for normal commercial negotiations in Australia could be construed as espionage in China, and added that there appeared to be a difference in the application of China's laws on state secrets and their Australian equivalent.

"China has its own laws about state secrets. They are clearly broader than the view that Australia might take," Smith said in Perth.

On Friday, Australian PM Kevin Rudd, who rejected the Opposition's call to directly intervene the matter, said it was a time for "working calmly, methodically" through a very difficult consular case.

"As we've done with many consular cases before. We'll make all representations at what levels are necessary," he had said.

Beijing, however, says it has evidence to back its claims that Hu and three Rio Tinto co-workers damaged China's economy and harmed its security.

"Hu is suspected of stealing China's state secrets for foreign countries," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular briefing yesterday.

"Competent authorities have sufficient evidence to prove they have stolen state secrets and have caused huge losses to China's economic interests and security." (ANI)

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