Iron ore tycoon begs West to restore relations with China

Australia’s richest man pleaded with politicians to reject Trumpian populism and rebuild the West’s fractured relationship with China to avoid harming the global economy and environment.

Andrew Forrest, founder of Fortescue, the world’s fourth largest iron ore miner, accused populist politicians of dividing people, tearing nations apart, and destroying humanity’s ability to leave the world in a better place than they had found.

If the Australian government asked him, he would play a role in helping heal the worst split in diplomatic relations between Beijing and Canberra in generations, he told the Financial Times in an interview.

“I’m a global philanthropist and this bullshit of drawing political lines between countries is an old era, gone from Trump, that won’t help the world destroy its own oceans, atmosphere or environment,” he said. .

“So, for all those breast beaters who want to keep their nations separate, remember that you are sacrificing humanity and the environment.”

Forrest’s offer to help Canberra rebuild relationship with Beijing comes against a backdrop of growth worry among Australian companies on China’s imposition of trade sanctions affecting A $ 19 billion ($ 14.5 billion) per year in local exports.

Last year, Chinese investment in Australia fell 61% to A $ 1 billion, well below the high of A $ 16.5 billion in 2016, and Canberra torpedoed several local business takeovers. proposed by Chinese bidders.

The iron ore was not affected, although the mining mogul, who amassed a fortune worth A $ 23 billion according to the AFR Rich List, declined to rule out that the product becomes trapped in trade tensions.

“We foresee an uncertain future so that our shareholders can have a certain future,” said Forrest, who has many contacts in China.

The relationship breakdown between Canberra and Beijing coincided with a much tougher approach by Washington, Australia’s strategic ally, towards China.

Forrest said the new Biden administration had considered the possibility of a compromise, however.

However, analysts doubt a detente given the acrimony of the talks between the United States and China. officials in Alaska Last week.

“There is a populist tinge in the foreign policy of Western countries, but the biggest problem is a conflict of interest and power,” said Richard McGregor, analyst at the Lowy Institute.

There are also few signs of a thaw in Sino-Australian relations.

“The Prime Minister is politically embarrassed to say that Australia has ‘done nothing at all’ to harm relations with China,” said James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute. “Meanwhile, China’s trade strikes are prompting the Australian public to support the government, which is taking a strong stand.

“It doesn’t hurt that this position also deserves congratulations in Washington. All of this means that political hawks are finding a listening ear in Canberra. “

However, Forrest is more optimistic and notes how Minderoo, his philanthropic foundation, was able to use his contacts to procure more than A $ 200 million worth of Covid-19 test kits and personal protective equipment from the Chinese government when the Global supplies were short.

“The world was exhausted. Everything that was available was directed by the Trump administration to go to America. . . China has embarked on one of the greatest acts of honor in business that I have seen and helped Australia out, ”he said.

Forrest has been criticized in the media for allegedly blinding a government minister by inviting the Chinese consul general in Victoria to speak at a joint press conference on the initiative. At the time, he laughed at the critics, telling reporters he was putting “Australia first”. He told the FT that he would “stand up and help my country” whenever asked.

“Remember why I am on this little planet. I had this incredible opportunity not to go play tennis or golf on the back deck of a yacht in the Mediterranean, but to use my limited time on this planet to leave it in a slightly better way than I did. found it.

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