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Prisoner of the System

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
July 21, 2009
South China Morning Post

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"I hope that one of the messages that goes out is if someone is going to steal proprietary information and steal that information for the benefit of another country, they are going to be charged in this country and face very serious punishment for doing so."

These might have been the words of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs' spokesperson, justifying the detention of four Rio Tinto employees under investigation for stealing state secrets and commercial bribery. Yet they were uttered last week by an American prosecutor, Ivy Wang, following the federal conviction of Dongfan "Greg" Chung, a former Chinese national, for economic espionage relating to the U.S. space program.

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? To paraphrase former President Clinton, "It's the procedure, stupid".

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