In the wake of a Hollywood spending spree by China’s Dalian Wanda Group, the Washington Post has published a deeply cautionary editorial, warning that “Beijing’s next propaganda outlet” could be the entertainment industry.
The Chinese firm has purchased Legendary Entertainment and has a pending deal to bu
“China already has imposed its censorious values on Hollywood studios, using access to its lucrative but strictly limited market (where Dalian Wanda also controls many theaters) as leverage,” the editorial says, adding that Wanda enjoys substantially greater freedom to conduct business in the U.S. than foreign firms are granted in China.
“Not only does Beijing seek to impose its censor’s rules on American films, but it also refuses foreign investors the same access to Chinese media and entertainment industries that Dalian Wanda enjoys in the United States. It is not far-fetched to assume that China would seek to spread pro-regime propaganda via ownership of U.S. entertainment media.”
“Is its ownership also a matter of national strategic importance?” asked the article. “The answer, according to a growing number of U.S. officials and entertainment industry observers, is maybe. That’s because the would-be buyer is Dalian Wanda, a Chinese conglomerate whose chairman’s Communist Party membership and close ties to President Xi Jinping’s government in Beijing make it a private firm only in a nominal sense.”
The editorial added, “If fully executed, this acquisition strategy could give Dalian Wanda, and by extension its patrons in Beijing, influence over not only the distribution of films but also their content.”
The paper recalls when Japan spent billions of dollars to take over Columbia Pictures and Universal but were forced to retreat because they underwent financial losses. However, it said, there is a “fundamental difference” between China and Japan’s spending habits.
“Japan is a strategic ally of the United States and a democracy committed to free expression,” it said. “China, by contrast, is adversarial and ruled by a dictator, Mr. Xi, who has openly declared a global propaganda agenda, based on the idea that ‘Chinese art will further develop only when we make foreign things serve China.’“
The 28-year-old Wanda Group is on pace to spend more than $30 billion in deals this year, with almost half of that in sports and entertainment. The company that began as a residential real estate development firm in the northern port city of Dalian, China, has grown at a record pace. Two months ago, it announced plans to install 4,000 new RealD 3D screens and 150 new IMAX theaters — the largest-ever installation deals for each of those formats.
Its latest move was to set a strategic alliance with Sony Pictures Entertainment. Wanda will invest in key film franchises that will be announced within the coming weeks, one individual familiar with the deal said. In return, SPE will take advantage of the considerable marketing and release power that the investment group enjoys in China.
And congress seems to be concerned by all of the activity. Earlier this week, the Government Accountability Office accepted a request from members of congress to review the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and determine whether its legal powers have kept pace with the influx of international buyers targeting American companies — particularly the fire hose of Chinese investment in Hollywood.