Every nation has the right to defend itself against theft of state secrets and commercial bribery. No one should dispute China’s right to do so. Then why should Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, himself a China specialist, take the extraordinary step of publicly warning the Chinese Government that the world is watching how it handles the case of Rio Tinto’s Stern Hu, a Chinese-born Australian, and his three Chinese co-workers?
Although this week’s Rio Tinto case focused world attention on China’s domestic legal system, it also raised doubts about a rising China’s adherence to its international legal commitments.
What can a government do when it believes a foreign government has unjustly detained one of its nationals? This month’s dangerous dispute between China and Japan understandably focused attention on their conflicting claims of sovereignty over the uninhabited islets known as the Diaoyu or Senkaku. Yet the methods used by China to free a fishing trawler captain from criminal investigation in Japan are undoubtedly being studied by countries that have similar problems in China and elsewhere.
Most countries, including the United States, struggle to strike a balance between the need to keep some government information secret in the interest of national security and the need to provide free access to most information in the interest of popular participation and economic development.