Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The use of state power to back up one side in commercial disputes is not uncommon in China. In what may be another example (too soon to tell), the Financial Times reports that four employees of Rio Tinto, currently in bad odor in China for reasons explained in the article (as well as being in the middle of tough negotiations with Chinese iron ore buyers), were detained in Shanghai without explanation. Subsequent information is that at least one employee will be charged with espionage and theft of state secrets.
This is pretty serious. Typically in commercial disputes, the criminal charge is one of fraud or something similar, whereas espionage and state secrets charges are used in political cases (as they probably are, of course, where actual espionage and state secrets are involved - but overuse breeds skepticism). Here, however, we have a company involved in tense commercial negotiations and these very serious charges against employees - it's unusual.