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About This Project

In the early 80s, Chinese engineers were increasingly interested in mining technology and management practices beyond their borders. I accompanied many of them to a number of Rio Tinto operations. Even among so many keen engineering minds, Mr Fei Ziwen stood out. I admired his intelligence and enthusiasm for learning. He was then the deputy head of a copper mine at Dexing, Jiangxi Province; and he had a vision of turning the mine into a world class operation.


One Sunday, I drove Mr Fei and two colleagues from Brisbane to the Gold Coast for lunch with my parents. Shortly, a megaphone and police siren instructed me to pull over: a speeding ticket followed. Thankfully, my parents made up for it with freshly caught mud crabs off our jetty and then we climbed into my dad’s runabout for a relaxing afternoon on the Nerang River. However, the motor conked out after ten minutes and we were all left drifting; eventually towed home. With no more mud crab to offer, I took everyone to the famous theme park, Sea World. Mr Fei was enthusiastic about trying a rollercoaster ride called the ‘Wild Mouse’. His colleagues were visibly unenthusiastic, but Mr Fei and I pressed on. I can still picture their looks of consternation as we sped past. A few weeks later Mr Fei was appointed as the head of China’s National Nonferrous Metals Industry Corporation, and then I understood. Their new boss had been stopped by police and cast adrift on a river, and they probably had visions of him flying off the Wild Mouse into the Pacific Ocean.


Mr Fei, and his successors, revitalised China’s nonferrous industries. Last year, I had lunch with Mr Fei in Beijing, now in his 80s. We reminisced over that misadventure. I think personal experiences like those, even imperfect ones, help cement a relationship of trust which, in our case, has lasted decades.


Ian Bauert is former Managing Director – China for Rio Tinto.

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