This Wascally Wabbit Won't Work in China - Yet


Bugs Bunny was slated for his Chinese debut tomorrow, headlining television programming for International Children's Day.

So, what's up, Doc?

Plenty. That wascally wabbit and his new Chinese language cartoon show have been yanked from the schedule, victims of a rising Chinese nationalism and trade tensions between China and the US over copyright piracy.

"It's very obvious why American films and serials can't be shown at this time," says Wei Ping, an official with China Central Television, which was to have aired the cartoons. "It's easy to understand given the political atmosphere."

Threatened with a multibillion-dollar, transpacific trade war and playing to public anger over foreign economic presence, China is on the offensive against American exports. In a highly charged atmosphere of patriotism and national pride, American products, name brands, and even garbage are under attack.

Facing a June 17 deadline to reach a copyright agreement, Washington and Beijing pledge to hit each other where it hurts. The US says it will slap punitive tariffs on $2 billion in textiles and electronics, crucial Chinese exports. China says it will retaliate by targeting, among other US exports, films, and TV shows.

Until the dispute is resolved, Bugs Bunny and other cartoon cohorts from the Looney Tunes library, whose broadcasting rights were sold to China by owners Warner Bros. and Turner Broadcasting System, have been postponed. Other copyrighted and legally purchased television shows could follow, Chinese television officials say.

Garbage is another US export China refuses. Since the trade dispute erupted earlier this month, Beijing has been kicking up a stink over proliferating piles of American garbage that are said to contain dangerous waste and to have been imported illegally for recycling.

First, the Chinese press reported the discovery of unmistakably American household wastepaper in suburban Pinggu County outside Beijing. Residents of Xiyu village said they had been complaining about the stench from the rubbish for some time although officials only took action this month. The 640 tons of garbage was traced to a Beijing pulp mill, which had imported and later discarded it last year.

Then, a 540-ton garbage mound, also exported from the United States, was uncovered in Qingdao port in Shandong Province. Twenty containers of hazardous solid waste from the US and Canada, including used batteries and computers, were detected by Chinese customs officials in Shanghai. Officials in Anqing, Anhui Province, reported finding 76 tons of American wastepaper.

After a tense year in which China-US relations nose dived over Taiwan, nuclear proliferation, human rights, and trade issues, the garbage has become yet another signal of US bullying. Issues like rubbish touch a sensitive nerve among Chinese still smarting from foreign occupations during the last 200 years.

"It is an immoral act for the US to ship such waste to China," said the official New China News Agency as part of a nationalistic campaign whipped up by officials and the Chinese media.

"The United States says it is the country in the world that pays most attention to human rights ... Why do they formulate policies that are harmful to others and advantageous to themselves?" the Beijing Evening News asked. "Why do they tolerate ... and support their enterprises transferring polluted materials to poison the peoples of other countries?"

People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, labeled the shipping of garbage "a malicious act."

"If such an awe-inspiring 'superpower' publicly allows this kind of harmful act to occur, where is its conscience?" the newspaper asked.

In a nationalistic frenzy aimed at shoring up its sagging public image, the Communist government has invoked Chinese pride in a crusade against Western economic and cultural imperialism. The media has been full of debate over the presence of foreign name brands, which outpace sales of lower-quality Chinese goods and affect jobs at decrepit state-run factories.

Even American cartoon icons like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse have been targeted. A campaign is under way to develop home-grown cartoon heroes for TV and comic books.

"The country - backed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China - wants to break the hold of foreign imported cartoons," reported the New China News Agency.

"Recently, cartoons have been brought in by foreigners. This is not good for Chinese children," says Yu Hong, head of cartoon editing at the Beijing Children's Publishing House, explaining that the violence in American and Japanese cartoons is objectionable to the Chinese.

"We are trying to develop cartoons with Chinese characteristics," he says.

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