A deeper look into the Rio Tinto saga

A Rio Tinto plant in Perth, Australia

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: Australian officials plan to meet with a mining executive of the Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto. He's being held by Chinese authorities. China accuses the manager of stealing state secrets relating to talks over iron ore prices. China has not revealed its evidence, but some are wondering whether this has something to do with a deal gone bad between Rio Tinto and a Chinese company. Reporter Tamara Keith has our story.


Tamara Keith: First, some really basic facts. Iron ore is a major ingredient in steel. China makes a lot of steel. Rio Tinto is a heavy hitter in the iron ore business.

And there's been quite a soap opera brewing between Rio Tinto and Chinalco, a Chinese mining company. The two announced a partnership earlier this year, where the state-owned Chinese company would take a significant stake in Rio Tinto. But that didn't go over very well in Australia; last month, the deal fell through.

Dan Ikenson is a trade policy expert at the Cato Institute:

Dan Ikenson: It's what goes on in the business world. Some people take it personally. Some businesses take it personally. And I know the Chinese have taken this issue as a matter of national pride.

Chinese officials say the dead deal has nothing to do with the detention of the Rio Tinto employees. Right now, there are also heated negotiations to set iron ore prices for the coming year. And Ikenson says detaining employees is probably not the best way to breed good will.

I'm Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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