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China Warns Australia Not to Politicize Rio Tinto Spying Case

Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, 18 Mar 2010

China has warned Australia not to politicize the case of the four employees of Australian mining giant Rio Tinto. They are accused of commercial espionage and will stand trial next week.

Beijing's warning about the Rio Tinto case came after Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the world would be watching how China conducts the trial.

Mr. Rudd also urged Beijing to allow the four suspects - who work for the Australian mining company - full diplomatic access during the trial, which starts Monday in Shanghai.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday the accused - three Chinese and one Australian citizen - would have their rights and interests fully protected.

But he warns those critical of the case to respect China's judicial authority.

Qin describes the trial as an individual business case and says it will not and should not be politicized.

He also says it will not hurt Australia-China relations.

China is Australia's biggest trade partner, with business worth $53 billion last year. About 41 percent of China's 2008 iron ore imports came from Australia.

The men were arrested last July, not long after Rio Tinto rejected an investment deal from a Chinese company and after Chinese steel makers failed to negotiate a cheaper price for Australian iron ore.

The case raised tensions between Australia and China, although ties have since recovered.

However, relations could once more sour if Australians consider the outcome of the trial to be too harsh.

The case has had a knock-on effect. The detention of the four, along with Google's dispute over Internet censorship and hacking complaints, has stoked investors' worries about doing business in China.