Los Angeles mayor presses China to allow more Hollywood films

By Reuters

Nov 22, 2014 08:08 PM EST

A flurry of private Chinese investment into Hollywood should prompt Beijing to loosen its restrictions on U.S. film imports, the mayor of Los Angeles said in China on Friday as he urged officials to raise the country's annual cap on foreign films.

Hollywood producers, eager to build ties to the world's second-largest film market, have embraced an influx of Chinese capital in recent years, leading to a series of high-profile partnerships. Chinese authorities have gradually raised the annual quota of foreign films to 34 but state censors still keep a firm grip over what may be shown.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is leading a two-week trade mission across three Asian countries, raised the issue of foreign film quotas - a longstanding source of U.S.-China trade friction - during a meeting with Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs Zhang Yesui in Beijing on Friday.  

"I hope the Chinese government will see (Chinese companies') profits coming in, and their stake in more movies coming in from the West," Garcetti said. "Our best advocates are going to be Chinese companies who have a stake in this opening up."

Former Warner Bros film chief Jeff Robinov announced in June the creation of a new studio reportedly with $200 million backing from Fosun International, one of China's largest private conglomerates.

The state-affiliated Shanghai Media Group pledged to invest $1 billion alongside veteran producer Robert Simonds on films, while Wanda Dalian - owned by Chinese real estate mogul Wang Jianlin - acquired the AMC Entertainment Holdings cinema chain in 2012 as its first move into Hollywood.

Although such joint partnerships may help studios get around foreign quotas, they are coming at a time when China's ruling Communist Party has tightened control over the media.

Chinese regulators pulled four U.S. television series from online streaming sites in April, while President Xi Jinping has urged the country's artistic elite to promote socialist values, eschew "the stink of money" and become a cultural influence on the world stage.

Garcetti said he hoped the deepening business bonds would soothe government concerns. "It's not a cultural threat," he said. "Quite the contrary, it's an integration of our two societies, both on the cultural and economic front."

The mayor, who has met his counterparts in the southern Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen so far on the trip, has also been pitching Los Angeles as a site to hold climate talks between the United States and China.

He said he welcomed Chinese investment and tourism, particularly following a revision in the U.S.-China visa treaty that now allows Chinese citizens unlimited visits over a 10-year period, and dismissed comparisons to the boom-and-bust cycle of Japanese real estate investment during the late 1980s.

"It's a flawed, simplistic comparison," he said . "Sure, there are booms and busts that can happen but I think there will be a permanence to this relationship."

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