The AFR produced a great page one read today about BHP-Billiton’s lobbying efforts in Canberra in favour of its Rio Tinto takeover bid and against China Inc’s attempts to intervene.

It looked very much like a Hawker Britton stitch-up on behalf of its Chinese government client Chinalco, which spent $16 billion buying 9% of Rio Tinto a few weeks back, because BHP-Billiton chairman Don Argus and CEO Marius Kloppers didn’t emerge looking too flash.

The overall message seemed to be that Argus is getting close to hysterical xenophobia with his warnings about China Inc, but we also learnt that Gary Gray, Rudd’s parliamentary secretary for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional development, personally told Kloppers that he was against the Rio takeover. As a West Australian and former senior Woodside executive, Gray’s opinion is important.

A separate feature a few weeks back also revealed that Argus sent a message to John Howard at the height of the leadership tensions with Peter Costello saying that the top end of town wanted the older man to stay on. Clearly this was a bad call.

Argus turns 70 in August this year when he’ll also be approaching 10 years as BHP chairman. He needs to be very careful to avoid a backlash against his own position – especially given his Liberal connections and Kevin Rudd’s hugely pro-China view.

Argus, in his former role as the pugnacious CEO of NAB, was a regular adversary of Paul Keating during the 1980s. Then Liberal Party Treasurer Ron Walker hailed Argus as being a key man behind John Howard’s 1996 victory through NAB’s role as generous banker to the Coalition campaign.

That said, Argus has a lot of support to create a Melbourne-based global mining behemoth and there’s plenty of concern about China. Join the dots on the following facts at the moment:

March 7: Chinese government spends $600 million buying 60% stake in AED Oil’s Puffin oil field the Timor Sea with not a ripple of concern in the media or Canberra.

March 12: Full extent of Rudd Cabinet and Labor’s colourful Chinese connections, sponsored travel and political donations revealed in Crikey.

March 13: China Government controlled firm Sinosteel reveals $1.2 billion takeover bid for Midwest with FIRB approval already granted.

March 16: The Sunday Age splashes with “Japan fury over Rudd snub” detailing concern that the PM is spending 4 days in China during his upcoming 17-day world tour but is not visiting Tokyo.

March 17: Dozens killed by Chinese government in reportedly brutal military confrontation with pro-Tibetan protestors which the Dalai Lama labels a “reign of terror”.

Given all this, it would be nice to hear at least a hint of caution towards China coming out of the Rudd Government.

Check out this recent Today Today story about Chinese and Russian investment set to the Jaws music.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey