China's acrimony over iron-ore price contracts with the world's third largest miner Rio Tinto escalated on Sunday 5 July, when it arrested four Rio employees, including its top iron ore price negotiator, in Shanghai on charges of espionage and stealing state secrets.
The four detainees are from the Shanghai sales and marketing office of Rio Tinto and include marketing manager Stern Hu, who holds an Australian passport and is the mining giant's chief negotiator in the negotiations for this year's benchmark iron ore annual contract prices while the other three are Chinese citizens.
Since their arrest on Sunday, Rio Tinto has still not been able to contact the employees and only today did the Chinese authorities respond to its repeated queries on the reasons for the arrests, saying that they had been detained on charges of espionage and stealing state secrets.
All the while, the Chinese embassy in Canberra has chosen not to talk about the arrests.
Not only have the Chinese authorities and police refused to comment on the arrest, not a single Chinese newspaper has reported the arrests.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement that it was seeking urgent consular access through its embassy in China and its consulate in Shanghai to the detained employees, which has not been granted so far.