Wed, Feb 16, 2011 - Page 1 News List

BHP offered to swap info on China with US: cables

Reuters, SYDNEY

Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton once offered to trade intelligence with Washington on China, its most important market, an Australian newspaper said yesterday, citing leaked US cables obtained from WikiLeaks.

The Sydney Morning Herald said the cables showed BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers had offered the exchange of information in 2009 after telling a US diplomat about the extent of Chinese surveillance of his firm.

Kloppers also complained of surveillance from other firms, the newspaper said, citing another Anglo-Australian miner, Rio Tinto, as one of them.

“Clearly frustrated, Kloppers noted that doing business in Melbourne [BHP’s Australian headquarters] is like ‘playing poker when everyone can see your cards,’” it quoted a US envoy to Australia, Michael Thurston, as saying in a cable.

“[Kloppers] complained that Chinese and industrial surveillance is abundant and went so far as to ask consul-general [Thurston] several times about his insights into Chinese intentions, offering to trade confidences,” the cable said.

BHP Billiton declined to comment on the report.

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto each count China as their biggest markets, but relations with China have sometimes been tense, especially in the iron ore market, which Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton dominate along with Brazil’s Vale.

BHP Billiton had already riled Chinese steel mills with its 2008 bid to take over Rio Tinto, though it later dropped that offer in the face of stiff global opposition from competition regulators. BHP Billiton upset the mills again in 2009 with a proposed iron ore joint venture with Rio Tinto, a deal that also floundered over anti-competition concerns.

Between those two failed attempts to forge a BHP Billiton-Rio Tinto alliance, Chinese state-owned metals conglomerate Chinalco proposed a US$23.9 billion partnership with Rio Tinto, which the firm initially accepted, but later rejected.

Kloppers took personal credit for quashing that deal, according to WikiLeaks, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

“Australia does not want to become an open pit in the southern-most province of China,” Kloppers said at the time, according to the report.

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