Trial of Rio Tinto workers start in China; Rudd warns Beijing

Beijing began trial of four employees of Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto for alleged bribery and industrial espionage even as Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd warned the Chinese authorities that the world will be watching China very closely.

A Shanghai court is trying Australian national Stern Hu and three Chinese colleagues on charges of bribery and industrial espionage. If proved guilty in the court, the four face up to seven years or more in prison.

The arrest of Hu and his three colleagues in China in July 2009 and their subsequent detention has strained diplomatic ties and raised questions about the rule of law in China. The four were also not allowed to meet their families since their arrest.

Hu is reported to have pleaded guilty to taking bribes worth some 6 million yuan ($879,000). Some Chinese commentators said the government has a strong case against the four.

Chinese media had accused the four of seeking information about Chinese mines and steel mills, which many firms consider legitimate market information.

Rio has said that its employees did nothing wrong.