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Govt says productive talks with Chinese offic -

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Govt says productive talks with Chinese official re Hu; Opposition says Labor too timid

Alexandra Kirk reported this story on Friday, July 17, 2009 12:23:00

PETER CAVE: The Federal Opposition is keeping up the pressure on the Government to take a stronger
stand with the Chinese Government over Stern Hu's arrest and detention.

Mr Hu, a Rio Tinto executive, has been detained in a Shanghai jail for almost two weeks. He's had
one consular visit, as the Australian Government's repeatedly sought more information and demanded
the matter be dealt with quickly.

While China issued strongly worded warnings for Australia to butt out of its affairs, the Foreign
Minister Stephen Smith says his meeting late last night with a Chinese vice-minister for Foreign
Affairs was "productive".

The Opposition has dismissed the Government's response as "timid and weak".

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Stern Hu and three of his Rio Tinto colleagues are being accused of bribery and
stealing state secrets.

The Chinese Government is ramping up the rhetoric. Its message is to butt out, saying the "noise"
some people are making is "interference in China's sovereignty".

And a Chinese government spokesman's declared the actions of Rio Tinto staff have caused losses to
China's interests, expressing a belief that Stern Hu and Rio are quote "fully aware of this".

But Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has a different view after his meeting with a
Chinese vice foreign minister last night in Cairo.

STEPHEN SMITH: That doesn't sit with the meeting that I had and the statements made to me, which
are that the investigation against Mr Hu and others associated with him who are also under
detention is ongoing.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Smith's view is he has made some headway.

STEPHEN SMITH: It was a good and productive conversation so at least I am satisfied there is a
channel there, an open channel of dialogue and I suspect that will be required for a period of time
because as I said before, we are in, I think, here for the long haul.

Secondly it is quite clear that the investigation has not concluded or completed. The Chinese, just
as we, are waiting for that investigation to conclude so a determination can be made as to whether
charges will be laid against Stern Hu.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Foreign Minister says Australia's consular agreement with China only allows for
one consular visit but has left open the option for pushing for more.

STEPHEN SMITH: If, at any point in time, Australian officials believe it is necessary or essential
to seek access over and above the access set out in the consular agreement then that will be done.
It is not something that we have come to a conclusion about at this stage.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Is it time to ramp up the pressure, raise it with your Chinese counterpart and the
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with President Hu Jintao because so far your representations appear to
have come to naught.

STEPHEN SMITH: The Prime Minister has made it clear, as I have, that if and when we believe it is
appropriate to make such representations at our equivalent levels, we will.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And you don't believe that that time has come yet?

STEPHEN SMITH: I have also made it very clear that I have regular meetings with Chinese Foreign
Minister Yang and when I have one of my regular meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang then I
will raise this matter.

That, in very many respects, goes without saying.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And is one on the radar?

STEPHEN SMITH: One, one, one meeting or one phone call will not solve the problems and the
difficulties now facing Mr Hu and facing the Australian Government as we, in our view, do
everything we can to protect his interest and to do our best to see a positive and a successful
outcome for him.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition remains critical of the Government's approach. Frontbencher Andrew
Robb, who's in China for talks on climate change, says Chinese authorities have been forthright in
communicating their position domestically. He contrasts that with the Rudd Government's response.

ANDREW ROBB: While Kevin Rudd has been tugging his forelock for 10 days, there has been a megaphone
operating up here in China, being pushed as the number one story on state run media everywhere and
it seems like a very deliberate attempt to escalate the issue, at least in China.

The Australian Government response has looked extremely timid and weak. I don't know any of the
details of course of the case but I did some work with Rio Tinto before entering Parliament and I
found the company had very strict ethical policies forbidding bribery and this needs to be said at
the very least that needs to be said and it is not being said.

PETER CAVE: Opposition frontbencher, Andrew Robb there.