London Calling raises some awkward questions about Chinese arrests
For the past ten days a media rumour mill has been relentlessly grinding over possible motives for the July 5 arrests of Stern Hu, a top Rio Tinto executive, along with three lower echelon staff, in China.
The detentions have been variously viewed as a state security force “palace coup”; a return to the “bad old days” of Peking realpolitik; as stemming from the regime’s outrage at Rio Tinto’s reneging on its US$19.5 billion deal with Chinalco. Or, primarily, as a consequence of the company’s recent success in negotiating a fairly buoyant price for its iron ore imports. Like in 2002, when China’s state-owned Minmetals bid, unsuccessfully, for control of Canada’s Noranda, there’s been more than a hint of Sinophobia to some of the commentaries.
On July 15, Australia’s foreign minister announced that the “world is watching” what the Chinese authorities now do with Mr Hu and his colleagues. Now, that’s hyperbole for you! Some might regard the statement as ill-befitting a top diplomat, representing the one country which has enjoyed more mineral-related commerce with the Peoples’ Republic, and for longer, than any other.
So far this much seems clear: Stern Hu, Rio’s top iron ore price negotiator, is accused of espionage, stealing state secrets – and probably bribery to boot. Indeed, at the end of the day, that may be the only charge to stick.