“From a political standpoint, this is very much in line with Chinese media policy, and Wang Jianlin is closely aligned with these policymakers,” says Aynne Kokas, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and the author of the forthcoming book “Hollywood Made in China.” So it’s a short leap to think Wang means to use his corporate power to expand China’s influence abroad, she says. “I think we should believe Wang Jianlin when he tells us what he plans to do.”
Tensions are further complicated because, while the United States freely permits Chinese investment in its film sector, China tightly controls U.S. investment in films in China. In addition, an agreement between the United States and China that permits American companies to export a total of 34 films to China per year is set to expire in February. The need for U.S. investment in the Chinese film industry has declined in recent years, sparking speculation that China could further restrict the number of American films it allows into its market.
Ironically, Sony sparked similar fears of foreign incursion in the U.S. market 27 years ago, when the Japanese company purchased Columbia Pictures Entertainment for $3.4 billion in cash. It was the largest acquisition to date by a Japanese firm. At the time, Sony pledged to keep the movie and TV studio “as independent as possible, as a full-fledged member of the U.S. film industry.”
Wanda’s U.S. operations also came under scrutiny Thursday, the day before the Sony Pictures partnership was announced, for allegedly using foreign money to challenge a local ballot measure in Beverly Hills that would decide a conflict between Wanda and the Beverly Hilton over plans to develop a local parcel of land. A local labor union representing hotel workers filed a complaint Thursday that Wanda had used foreign money to influence the ballot measures, in contravention of U.S. law. Wanda denied the allegation.