A senior Chinese diplomat yesterday urged Australia to respect the judicial sovereignty of China in handling the espionage case involving Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto.
"The Australian side should look at it as an individual case and treat it properly," said Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei.
He made the remarks during a press briefing in advance of strategic and economic talks between the US and China, which will be held in Washington July 27-28.
Chinese authorities earlier this month detained four employees of Rio Tinto - Australian Stern Hu, head of Rio Tinto's Shanghai office, and three Chinese - on charges of spying and stealing State secrets.
Since their arrest, Australian opposition politicians have pressured Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to do more to resolve the situation.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, however, yesterday acknowledged that the dispute would not be settled quickly.
Smith, who was attending a conference in Phuket, Thailand, said he hoped to meet his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, the next day. Smith dismissed suggestions, though, that failing to meet would represent a setback.
"The Stern Hu matter," Smith said, "is not going to be solved by one phone call or one meeting, as I've seen people suggest."
Smith said he hoped the investigation would be "conducted expeditiously" and that if charges are filed against Hu, "this is done expeditiously".
He said yesterday that he briefed Smith on the case during a conference in Egypt last week. "I told him we have ample evidence showing that some individuals involved acquired Chinese national secrets through illegal means," He told reporters.
"The case will be handled in accordance with the law, and should not affect the normal trade relationship between China and Australia," said He.
Zhu Guangyao, an assistant finance minister, said at the press briefing yesterday that the US and China next week will discuss ways to respond to the global financial crisis and revive economic growth.
"The aim is to send out a positive signal that China and the United States are working together to overcome the difficulties," Zhu said.
The Chinese hope that the US will adopt responsible fiscal and monetary policies to ensure the value of the US dollar and protect the safety of Chinese assets in the United States, said Zhu.