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Australia in for 'long haul' on Hu case
Stern Hu and three other Rio Tinto employees have been accused of spying in relation to iron ore agreements. (ABC News)

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith says it will be at least another month before consular officials can have access to an Australian executive detained in China.

Stern Hu and three other Rio Tinto employees have been accused of spying in relation to iron ore agreements.

Mr Smith says under the consular agreement struck with China in 2000, Australian officials have only one access visit per month and cannot discuss any details relating to the case.

But he says the Federal Government is prepared for a "long haul" in dealing with the case.

Speaking to reporters in Perth, Mr Smith says Chinese authorities had still not revealed to Australia any evidence in support of their decision a week ago to detain the Rio Tinto employees.

Meanwhile, a former colleague of Mr Hu says the executive's wife and two sons have also received little information from Chinese authorities.

"I've spoken to his wife virtually every day this week, his wife Julie," said Ron Gosbee, who once employed Mr Hu in China and has been friends with him for two decades.

"She's says that she's OK but I guess anyone in those circumstances would probably say the same thing.

"I don't think she really knows at this point what the issues are. I think the only information she's getting is through the Australian consul."

The Federal Government has struggled to get information from Chinese officials about the allegations against Mr Hu.

Rules changed?

But Mr Gosbee says it is ludicrous to suggest Mr Hu has been stealing state secrets.

"If it's a matter of gathering market intelligence and reporting it back to his head office in Perth, the Chinese have changed the rules," he said.

"I think if the Chinese have changed the rules I think business here in Australia needs to ask the Minister for Trade, as to China, what's going on.

"Because if they've changed the game rules then Australian business needs to know."

The Federal Opposition says the Government needs to sort out the case, or risk seeing businesses pull out of China.

The Opposition's foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop says businesses may have to rethink their dealings with China.

"If commercial negotiations are going to be equated to state secrets ... then that brings a whole different perspective," she told ABC1's Insiders.

Government frontbencher Chris Bowen has told Channel 10 the matter is a concern for both Canberra and Beijing.

"The Chinese Government will be very aware that it's not good for business certainty," he said.

- ABC/Reuters

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