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China's ‘Soft Opening’ to the West? Wake Up, Hollywood

Guest blog: China's huge markets beckon, but Hollywood must realize that this is not your grandfather's Marxist-Leninist regime and that there is real risk and responsibility involved

Will China's ''soft opening'' to the West create more opportunities for Hollywood studios to market their wares inside the communist behemoth?

Or will it merely make it easier for American directors and screenwriters to self-censor themselves and make movies for the China market that do not probe social or political issues at all?

Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times a few years back, Stanley Rosen, director of the East Asian Studies Center at the University of Southern California, said he was concerned that “a generation of moviegoers could emerge with a skewed, sanitized view of China in which human-rights abuses and even the grittiness of everyday life are swept under the rug.”

I write this as an American who has lived in Taiwan for the past 15 years and seen first-hand how ruthless and dishonest communist Chinese officials and propagandists can be.

Wake up, America. Wake up, Hollywood. China is not your grandfather's Marxist-Leninist party. It is today's Chinese Communist Party intent on not only ruling its own people with an iron fist but the West as well. I am not kidding, and you should not be laughing.

Rosen, however, told me recently that he sees both positive and negative aspects to Chinese policies, domestically as well as internationally. "I think China's opening to the West and the goal of promoting its 'soft power' is definitely real, but I don't see it as a threat," Rosen told me in a recent email.

"Every country tries to promote its views using 'soft power' and it's not surprising that China would try to do it as its power increases," he said. "Promoting 'soft power,' even with Hollywood's cooperation, is difficult if a country's policies are too far out of step with prevailing global norms.

"The real issue may be whether long-prevailing global norms — associated primarily with the West — change and become closer to the 'Chinese model' of growth and international relations, along with a rather different set of values than Western values. We like to associate our values with universal values, but China is questioning much of that," Rosen added.

So will American and British directors and screenwriters make ''China-friendly'' movies for the China market that do not probe social or political issues at all?

I believe Hollywood for the most part will chicken out and go where the money is, throwing critical thinking to the wind and getting as much box office as its Chinese distributors can send their way.

Sometimes it's not a pretty picture for outsiders looking to do business in China.  A recent news report in an English-language newspaper in Taiwan details how a large Taiwanese department store trying to set up business in China  has been met with bullying tactics inside China.

At a press conference in Taipei, the local department store explained how its Chinese partners ''defied the contract spirit, interfering with operations by deliberately cutting off the electricity supply and arbitrarily raising the rent to force Taiwanese businesses to meet their demands."

Sure, Beijing is using ''soft power'' to seduce with the West, but remember this is one of the most brutal communist regimes the world has ever seen. Just ask the Tibetans, or Ai Weiwei.

In the end, I pray for freedom and democracy in China: it's the only way that 5,000-year-old "civilization"can be civilized.