SYDNEY (AP) -- Mining giant Rio Tinto has appointed a top iron ore executive to head its operations in China, in an apparent bid to repair relations with its biggest customer.
Ian Bauert would become Rio Tinto's managing director for the China business with immediate effect, the company said Friday.
Bauert's previous role was managing director for sales and marketing of Rio Tinto's iron ore operation, and he has China experience. He opened the company's first office in China more than 25 years ago and is fluent speaker of Mandarin, Rio Tinto said.
Rio Tinto has been embroiled in tough iron ore price negotiations with Chinese state-owned companies in recent years, and ties plunged last July when Chinese authorities detained four Rio Tinto workers on suspicion of industrial espionage. Prosecutors are yet to decide whether to put the four -- including Australian citizen Stern Hu -- on trial.
"I am deeply committed to developing our relationship with China," Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese said in a statement announcing Bauert's posting. "Ian's experience and leadership will provide strategic direction and help guide all aspects of our engagement with China, one of most important partners."
Bauert's job is new, with the previous senior executive for China also having responsibility for all of Asia.
Bauert will be based in Shanghai and lead 160 Rio Tinto employees in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.