Global miner BHP Billiton acknowledged on Thursday that it and other iron ore producers had at times upset their major customer China and said that Beijing realised it had to play with the big boys.

In a parting shot at Chinese anger over high iron ore prices and over BHP's plans for a $116 billion iron ore joint venture with rival Rio Tinto, outgoing BHP Chairman Don Argus said China needed to get over any hostility.

I don't know what creates the hostility. I can remember in 2005 people were hostile when we increased the iron ore prices 70 percent, he told reporters after speaking at a business lunch.

Argus then echoed comments by Australia's Trade Minister Simon Crean, saying China should play by international rules.

If you're going to play in this game, then you've got to play with the big boys -- and they know that, Argus added.

BHP and Rio announced their joint venture plan in June after Rio scrapped a proposed $19 billion tie-up with state-owned metals conglomerate Chinalco.

Argus said BHP's China business continued normally, despite strained ties between Australia and China after the arrest of four Rio staff in Shanghai on commercial-espionage allegations.

Argus dismissed speculation that the production joint venture has only a 50-50 chance of going ahead and was sanguine about how Europe's competition regulators would view it.

As far as I know we're still on track. We're all still working closely together, Argus told reporters after speaking at a business lunch.

The shareholders want this transaction to go ahead because they can see the benefits there at the end.

European regulators had given BHP's proposed takeover of Rio Tinto a good hearing last year, but it was not clear how they would view the production joint venture, he added.

Last week, BHP and Rio scrapped a plan to jointly market up to 15 percent of their combined production in a move that was widely seen as an effort to allay concerns among Chinese customers and the European Union.

Argus is due to retire in early 2010 after more than 10 years as chairman presiding over the group's transformation into the world's biggest miner. He will be replaced by former Ford Motor Co chief Jac Nasser.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Mark Bendeich)