Philip Bowring: Beijing’s Rio Tinto Washout

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Philip Bowring‘s writes about recent accusations against Rio Tinto employees of stealing state secrets:

Those charges have yet to be elaborated upon. Meanwhile, an official of the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets in China has alleged that Rio’s “spying” cost the nation $100 billion in higher iron ore prices.

The claim does not stand up to the most casual scrutiny of trade data. China’s total imports of iron ore over that period were only $168 billion, of which only about 20 percent was from Rio. China was paying the same negotiated prices as Japanese, Korean and other importers. And China’s own mines, which provide more than 50 percent of its needs, were using similar price benchmarks, or selling on the spot market, where prices have been mostly higher than the negotiated ones.

The nonsensical claim was made in an article by an official not directly involved in the spying case, but it was immediately trumpeted by the official news agency Xinhua, as well as by media across China and around the world. Although the article is no longer on the Web site, its claims have not been corrected and its imprint on Chinese minds will not disappear. Meanwhile, foreigners are left wondering when it may be their turn to be subject to blasts of xenophobia or become pawns in power and money struggles between different mainland agencies.

August 11, 2009 9:43 AM
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