The Plastic Premier

When a group of 15 executives from multinational mining companies met with Wen Jiabao, China's Premier-designate, in late 2001, they hoped to be getting face time with a kindred spirit. The execs, among them heavyweight representatives of giant mine operators such as Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, wanted to discuss the opening of China's mineral-extraction market to foreign investment. Wen, a geologist by training, was in a position to make a difference as the country's Vice Premier. As everybody sipped green tea in a meeting room at Zhongnanhai, the Beijing leadership compound, Wen listened politely to their pitch for streamlining the...

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