Global miner Rio Tinto hired Ian Bauert, a fluent Mandarin speaker, to head its China business on Friday in an effort to improve relations with its largest customer after the arrest of a top executive there.

The appointment follows the detention of Rio Tinto's lead iron ore negotiator in China, Stern Hu, and three other staff last July on charges of illegally obtaining commercial secrets. Hu and his co-workers have yet to be prosecuted.

I am deeply committed to developing our relationship with China, Chief Executive Tom Albanese said in a statement.

Ian's experience and leadership will provide strategic direction and help guide all aspects of our engagement with China, one of our most important partners, he added

Bauert, formerly head of iron ore sales and marketing, began working at Rio Tinto more than 30 years ago and set up the miner's first office in China about 25 years ago.

This appointment recognizes the importance of China as a long-term partner with our organization and our intention to foster new and dynamic relationships as China's development continues, Rio Tinto added in its brief statement.

Bauert comes to the post vacated by the relocation to the United States of Rio Tinto's former managing director for Asia, Tony Loo, who also held the separate job of managing director for China. Bauert's role will be limited to China.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Mark Bendeich)