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Xi Jinping in California: a glimpse of what China really wants

Chinese president-in-waiting Xi Jinping will spend most of his two-day California trip highlighting the two things that, perhaps, the Chinese people admire most about the US: films and basketball. 

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / February 16, 2012

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (l.) is greeted by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Gov. Jerry Brown (r.) as he arrives at Los Angeles International airport on Thursday.

Damian Dovarganes/AP


Los Angeles

Now comes the fun part.

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After getting an earful from Vice President Joe Biden in Washington about intellectual property rights and a cuff full of hog leavings at a farm in Iowa, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping now will tour Hollywood and hang with the people closest to the hearts of common Chinese people: movie executives and NBA basketball stars. He arrives Thursday afternoon and leaves Friday night.

Why is he here? “Oh, there must be 15 trillion reasons,” quipped Jay Leno on last night’s “Tonight Show,” referencing the size of the US federal debt (for which China is a major creditor).

But the inside story is that teams of Chinese film-production specialists have been here for months working on a deal to be announced by Mr. Xi on Friday: DreamWorks Animation will jointly build and operate a studio in Shanghai with two state-owned Chinese media companies, Shanghai Media Group and China Media Capital.

Beyond that, Xi will tour the Port of Los Angeles, where the China Shipping Terminal is doubling its space to keep up with the massive US-China trade, which reached $133 billion in 2011.

And Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Gov. Jerry Brown want to talk to Xi about Chinese investment in high-speed rail, which has come under scrutiny and has lost some public support here in recent weeks with the release of several studies suggesting major cost overruns.

But the biggest part of the “Mr. Xi goes to Hollywood” story is for him to make as many contacts in the cinema industry as possible. The goal is to jump-start the Chinese industry, says to Clayton Dube, associate director of the US-China Institute at the University of Southern California.

“This is a very, very big issue for the Chinese, who have been very successful in developing their own economy and high-tech products, but their films have not traveled well,” says Mr. Dube.

He mentions a recent film called “Flowers of War” with Christian Bale that was the most expensive film ever made in China but didn’t do well in China or the US. The Chinese are interested in films that do very well globally – and that has meant big special effects and 3-D movies in the mold of “Avatar” and “Transformers.” 

Dube says China wants to mimic US “soft power” – its ability to influence world culture.

“Soft power refers to the ability to have people attracted to you, and that is what the US has in abundance and what Xi wants to know more about,” says Dube.


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