No bias on foreign investment: Forrest

Nick SasThe West Australian

Andrew Forrest has labelled the rejection of the US-backed takeover of GrainCorp as a "good decision" for China, with the billionaire businessman describing it as proof there was no Federal Government bias to the US.

Speaking to WestBusiness after travelling to Sydney over the weekend for the second meeting of the Australia-China Senior Business Leaders' Forum, Mr Forrest said the GrainCorp decision should give confidence to China that Federal Government made foreign investment decisions simply on merit.

Although some commentators believe Treasurer Joe Hockey's call on Friday to reject Archer Daniels Midland's $3.4 billion bid for the giant grain handler will create nervousness among Chinese investors in Australia, Mr Forrest had a different view.

"Australia has an unblemished record, I think, with investments from China to Australia," Mr Forrest said. "But if something is against Australia's interest, such as a concentration of power in grain marketing, then Australia acts within her sovereign interests.

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"It doesn't matter about the business relationship or the military alliance, we should act impartially for Australia and its citizens. And I think it was actually good for China."

In an increasingly common foray into diplomacy and foreign business relations, the Fortescue Metals chairman said the informal bi-annual meeting was designed to improve the business relationship between China and Australia through basic dialogue. It was a relationship which former prime minister Bob Hawke told him had gone from "chocolates to boiled lollies" five years ago.

The meeting, attended by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and luminaries such as Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes and Westfield founder Frank Lowy, covered topics such as the impending Australia-China free trade agreement to China's third plenum reform agenda.

The meeting also came just days after Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop came under fire for ordering the Chinese Ambassador to be called in so Australia could make known its concerns about growing tensions in the East China Sea.

Some business leaders with strong ties to China are understood to be concerned about the Abbott Government's handling of the situation and the fallout for the relationship with Australia's biggest trade partner.

Mr Forrest declined to be drawn on Ms Bishop's actions and said the "elephant in the room" at the meeting was dealt with openly, vigorously and in a friendly fashion.

"The business relationship, trade and investment, and relationships between people is what the political relationship stands on," Mr Forrest said. "And that has to be robust despite what happens in the political arena."

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