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China secrets laws leave Rio few options

uk.reuters.com

China secrets laws leave Rio few options

BEIJING – The options for Australian miner Rio Tinto, or indeed anyone, to help four employees detained in a Chinese state secrets investigation are limited, lawyers say, as laws leave great latitude to investigators and prosecutors.

Under China’s sweeping laws, the health and even the birthdays of the current leadership are considered state secrets.

Almost anything else can be classed as secret, especially economic data, as China moves from a system where everything once belonged to the state to the current free-for-all where everyone scrambles for any advantage they can get.

Stern Hu, an Australian citizen, and three Chinese colleagues were detained this month for stealing state secrets to aid Rio in price negotiations for iron ore, which is used in steelmaking. At least one Chinese steel executive is also detained and the probe has reached many of the largest mills.

The murkiness of state secret laws puts foreign investors potentially at risk when dealing with state-owned entities and potentially sensitive economic information.

Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on Wednesday the world was watching the case and warned significant economic interests are at stake.

The case has also raised concerns about rights under China’s legal system that are more commonly heard from human rights activists than from businessmen.

“This case makes as clear as any does that business people also have human rights,” said Jerome Cohen, a professor at New York University School of Law. “They ignore at their peril what are perceived as purely human rights cases, since, as this case illustrates, they can be next.”

CONSULAR VISITS

Chinese diplomatic protocol prevents Australian consular official from asking Hu about anything other than his physical welfare. After their first visit last Friday, Beijing is not required to allow another visit for one month.

During investigations, neither the defendant nor the lawyer have access to documents on which a case in based, and lawyers cannot challenge the “secret” designation, Cohen said.

Lawyers are often not allowed to see their clients until the state security apparatus has concluded the investigation and formally handed the suspect over for prosecution. That can take months, or even more than a year.

Defence lawyers in such cases themselves have a legal “obligation to guard secrets,” said lawyer Guan Anping, who took on state secrets cases in the past.

Trials involving state secrets are held behind closed doors, and family members of defendants are barred.

The diplomatic fuss could benefit Hu in areas where Chinese authorities exercise discretion, for instance in allowing earlier access for his lawyer or increased privacy in consultations.

His three Chinese subordinates, and any Chinese executives caught up in the investigation, have far less protection. Rio could hire a lawyer for its Chinese employees, but not much else.

Article 111 of the Chinese code, which refers to illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to organisations or people outside the country, leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Sentences can vary from six months to death, and some foreigners have been expelled after conviction in the past.

“Intelligence” could include information that may be public in China, but considered embarrassing if aired abroad.

Exiled Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, who China says was the mastermind behind ethnic riots in Xinjiang, was jailed for mailing newspaper clippings to her husband.

CHINESE EMPLOYEES

Chinese-born foreign nationals are particularly vulnerable. Their language and cultural skills mean they navigate the Chinese system well but their loyalty is supposed to be to China first.

That poses a problem for the many multinationals who rely on Chinese employees to advise and carry out operations in China, recognising their ability to bridge foreign and Chinese cultures.

The Chinese business culture is additionally confusing because of the hybrid form of many state-owned companies, which are listed entities but also integral to a state-directed economic model that China adopted from the Soviet Union.

One legacy of the system is that a “state secret” can be in the hands of a commercial enterprise, and the cost of a raw material — such as iron ore — can become of national interest.

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China denies India envoy mistreated in Yiwu court row

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 China has denied that an Indian diplomat was mistreated during an angry court hearing in the city of Yiwu.Delhi complained after S Balachandran was reportedly denied medication when trying to secure the release of two Indians held hostage by local traders for allegedly failing to pay debts.China said media reports were “not factually accurate”.Indian media report that the two Indians are now being moved from a hotel in Yiwu to Shanghai.The two Indians had earlier told Indian television they were being treated “like animals”.On Tuesday, India warned its businessmen they were not safe to trade in Yiwu.

‘Ruled by laws’

At a press briefing China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “Relevant media reports that the Indian consular official from Shanghai was forbidden from eating or taking his medication while in Yiwu and was surrounded and attacked do not accord with the facts.

“China is a country ruled by laws, which pays great attention to relations with India,” he said.

However, Mr Hong gave no specific account of what China believed had happened.

He said the two Indians had been put under police protection in a hotel and that five people had been arrested for “illegal detention”.

“China hopes that India treats this matter objectively and fairly,” he said.

China’s ambassador to India, Zhang Yan, met foreign affairs officials in Delhi on Wednesday and assured them that “serious attention” was being given to the plight of the two traders.

Later India’s NDTV channel quoted External Affairs Minister SM Krishna as saying the pair were being escorted by Indian consulate officials to Shanghai.

The businessmen, Deepak Raheja and Shyamsunder Agrawal, had pleaded for help in an earlier interview with NDTV.

Mr Agrawal said: “Please save us… get together and help us. They have stripped us, thrown things at us, beaten us, tortured us. We are being treated worse than animals.”

Their hotel had reportedly been surrounded by a large crowd of locals.

The pair had been held hostage by local traders for two weeks for non-payment of dues by their company, whose owner has allegedly fled the country.

On Tuesday, an advisory on India’s Beijing embassy website said businessmen could be “mistreated” in Yiwu and had “no guarantee of legal remedies”.

The strongly worded statement on the embassy website said that “Indian businessmen are cautioned to stay away from Yiwu”.

It added: “In case of disputes arising, experience suggests that there is inadequate protection for safety of persons.”

Delhi believes Mr Balachandran was denied medicine and collapsed in the courtroom in Yiwu on 31 December.

Mr Balachandran is a diabetic. He was taken to hospital in a semi-conscious state and later transferred to Shanghai, where he has improved.

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William Hague to urge reform on visit to Burma

William Hague is visiting Burma, the first British foreign secretary to do so for more than 50 years.

He is expected to use meetings with the country’s leaders to press for the release of more political prisoners.
His visit is the latest in a series by top diplomats from around the world, amid steps towards reform by the new government in Burma.
Burma held its first elections in 20 years in 2010, replacing military rule with a nominally civilian government.
Since then the new administration has freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and begun a process of dialogue.
Last month she formally registered her National League for Democracy as a political party, after boycotting the 2010 polls because of electoral laws that prevented her taking part.

In December US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma, in what was seen as an endorsement of the reform process – although Western observers say much more is needed.
‘Political freedom’

Speaking ahead of his arrival in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, William Hague welcomed the “encouraging” steps taken by the government.

“I am visiting the country to encourage the Burmese government to continue on its path of reform, and to gauge what more Britain can do to support this process,” he said.

Mr Hague is the first British foreign secretary to visit Burma since 1955.

In Nay Pyi Taw he will hold talks with President Thein Sein, a former top general who stepped down to contest the polls as a civilian.

He will then travel to Rangoon, Burma’s commercial capital, to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, representatives of some of Burma’s ethnic minority groups and dissidents.

Ms Suu Kyi’s party plans to contest by-elections in April that could see her elected to parliament. Her party secured a landslide victory in polls in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

The new government has released some political prisoners in recent months but between 600 and 1,000 journalists, dissidents and monks who led anti-government protests in 2007 are thought to remain behind bars.

Mr Hague said he wanted to see more progress on reform.

“Further steps are needed that will have a lasting impact on human rights and political freedom in Burma,” he said.

“In particular, we hope to see the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections, humanitarian access to people in conflict areas, and credible steps towards national reconciliation.”

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