Monday, 13 July 2009

A little red warning light

The Fairfax correspondent in China, John Garnaut, brought forward this morning the story of the red envelopes with cash in them that should be serving as a red warning light to the Opposition politicians who, without having any knowledge of the charges or the evidence to support them, have found Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu an innocent man.

Liberal Leader Malcolm Turnbull and his Deputy Julie Bishop have seen in the arrest in Shanghai of this major Australian iron ore salesman as an opportunity to embarrass our Chinese speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. If the Australian people see Mr Hu as a man wrongfully imprisoned by an authoritarian communist government then Mr Rudd will surely be seen as the impotent expert, not the leader whose understanding of things Chinese is strengthening the foundation for Australian prosperity to keep growing with their impressive economic growth.

Which is what makes the Garnaut remark that “when Rio Tinto holds press events in China, its public relations firm sometimes hands out red envelopes of cash to Chinese journalists who are kind enough to turn up” such a significant one. Not to put too fine a point on it, the accusation is that Rio Tinto is in the business of bribing journalists. If we have to guess what the charges against Mr Hu will turn out to be in the end it will in all likelihood turn out to be the very same thing. That is what the reports in the Chinese press — clearly not influenced on this occasion by what is in the little red envelopes — point to.

With the experience of the Australian Wheat Board in Iraq so recently before us, we would be extremely naive to think that improper conduct by an Australian company is somehow impossible. Messrs Turnbull and Bishop might care to ponder that before going any further with their blanket verdict that Rio and its employees are naturally not guilty.

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