Three detained Chinese employees of Australian miner Rio Tinto appeared healthy and calm, their defense lawyers said on Wednesday after visiting their clients for the first time early this week.

He was calm and appeared normal, said Tao Wuping, the defense lawyer of Liu Caikui, one Rio's four Shanghai-based sales staff detained one month ago.

He told me about his role in the case and what the police inquired of him after I explained to him the legal procedures and the charges as he requested, Tao told Reuters via telephone. He declined to disclose further details.

Charges against the four, including Australian Stern Hu who heads Rio's sales team in China, have been downgraded to allegations of illegally obtaining commercial secrets and bribery from suspicion of stealing state secrets, which can carry the death penalty in the most serious cases.

The commercial secrets charge can bring jail terms of up to three years, or seven years in especially serious cases.

The authorities changed the charges during the investigation and the move benefits my clients, said Tao, who also defended Shanghai property developer Zhou Zhengyi in a high-profile corruption case.

Tao said he had not read any documents about the case, as it had just been transferred from the state security agency to the public security agency and was still under investigation.

Lawyers representing the two other detained Chinese nationals said on Wednesday that they had met their clients and confirmed that they appeared well.

He is good, physically and mentally, Zhai Jian, lawyer for Ge Minqiang, told Reuters.

The case is still under investigation and I will not read any documents until the investigation finishes, but the timing depends on the police, Zhai said, adding that the investigation could last another two months under the provisions of Chinese law.

It was still unknown whether Australian citizen Stern Hu, the head of Rio's sales team in China, had received legal counseling as his defense lawyer Duan Qihua, or Charles Duan, is traveling abroad on a business trip. Hu and three colleagues were detained in early July, shortly after a deadline passed without agreement in iron ore price negotiations between the Chinese steel industry and miners Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Vale .

The Australian government has pressed for more information on the case, while Rio Tinto maintains its employees are innocent. The four were formally arrested last week.

I informed my client of the legal principles, his rights and those things he should pay attention to regarding the charges against him. We have not discussed anything specific on the case yet, said Zhang Peihong, defense lawyer for Wang Yong.

(Reporting by Alfred Cang and Edmund Klamann; Editing by Nick Macfie)