What a signal to send!
Three days before the trial opens in Shanghai of four Rio Tinto employees, the company goes and signs a $2.9 billion joint venture deal with Chinalco to develop an iron ore project in Guinea.
And as Stern Hu, Rio Tinto’s former head of iron ore sales in China, steps into the dock on Monday morning, the company’s chief executive, Tom Albanese, will be attending a forum in Beijing.
It seems like strange timing. Indeed, Rio has been giving out mixed signals for a while, at one point refusing to travel to China for iron ore negotiations and at the next appointing an extremely experienced Mandarin speaker to be its new China head.
Some observers have commented that it was Rio’s decision to pull out of a merger with Chinalco, last July, and then China’s subsequent failure to agree an iron ore contract price with the producers that contributed to the arrest of Mr Hu and his three Chinese colleagues.
So is it just coincidence that the two companies appear to have kissed and made up just before the trial begins? Has Rio managed to fix a deal with the Chinese authorities? And will Mr Hu and his workers be let off the charges (which have already been watered down)?