ZHOU Zhongshu, the Spanish and English-speaking Minmetals boss who is set to be Australia’s newest mining magnate, was the poor cousin of China’s flashy and reformed state-owned resources enterprises.

Mr Zhou had no revolutionary lineage, no special political connections and no publicised ambition to take on the world.

“Minmetals was a totally stodgy company, conservative and bureaucratic, they really didn’t seem to take the opportunities available to them,” says a former Australian adviser.

Worse, it had no money.

Many have forgotten that Mr Zhou’s promotion in December 2004 immediately followed Minmetals being rejected and burnt by political blow-back from what would have been China’s largest overseas investment, a $US7.4 billion ($A11.3 billion) takeover of Canadian miner Noranda. Canadian politicians said Minmetals’ foreign investment application would be linked with China’s human rights record.

In some ways, Mr Zhou runs an old-style state-owned enterprise. He doubles as the company’s Communist Party secretary and he sits on a diluted form of parliament called the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Mr Zhou mouths the right platitudes about striving for a “moderately prosperous” and “harmonious society”, which are marketed in China as President Hu Jintao’s philosophical contribution to socialism.

Meanwhile, as Mr Zhou was cooling his heels, his former Minmetals colleague, Huang Tianwen, led Sinosteel into China’s first successful hostile takeover, with Midwest last year.

Mr Zhou’s client, Baosteel president Xu Lejiang, became the domestic and international pin-up boy of Chinese heavy industry. And Mr Zhou’s friend, Xiao Yaqing, shook the world with Chinalco’s two-tranche Rio Tinto investment.

But by yesterday, the gloss had well and truly faded on Mr Huang’s $US1.3 billion Midwest splurge, Mr Xu had lost his halo and Mr Xiao’s Rio deal team was licking its wounds at a Brisbane cafe. And Mr Zhou had executed the perfect comeback.

Last week Mr Zhou revealed a bumper 7.1 billion yuan ($A1.6 billion) profit, the ninth consecutive annual rise.

He tied up a loan with the China Development Bank, and yesterday he stumped up $A3.7 billion to get his hands on OZ Minerals and its suite of zinc, copper and lead mines.