Davos: China’s richest man, Hollywood investor Wang Jianlin, warned Donald Trump on Wednesday against dragging the entertainment industry into a trade war — saying his country’s millions of movie-lovers are key to the future of cinema.
The Chinese billionaire joined a chorus of concern from international business chiefs gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week over the protectionist leanings of the US president-elect, who takes office on Friday.
Wang, whose Wanda conglomerate owns a US cinema chain, a Hollywood production company and the firm that runs the Golden Globe awards, said America would be the bigger loser if the entertainment sector fell prey to a trade war.
“The main growth market of English-language films out of the US is actually China, not anywhere else,” Wang told an audience in Davos, noting that China had the most movie screens in the world with 15,000 added in the past year alone.
“If China were to retaliate, it would be bad for both parties so I don’t wish to see that scenario materialising,” he said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has led calls in Davos this week for an open global economy as Trump prepares to take power.
“No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” Xi said in a keynote speech Tuesday as he paid his first visit to the World Economic Forum.
Wang warned last month that the jobs of 20,000 people employed by Wanda companies in the US would be on the line if the Trump administration mishandled Chinese investment.
The 62-year-old acknowledged US political concerns over his acquisitions, which include the $2.6 billion purchase of cinema chain AMC in 2012 and Legendary Entertainment, the company behind the Batman trilogy, for $3.5 billion last year.
Several US lawmakers have urged the government to examine the national security implications of such investments in Hollywood, if such Chinese “soft power” is allowed to take root.
More emotion, fewer superheroes
But Wang, whose property-to-entertainment empire also includes a 20-percent stake in the Atletico Madrid football team, said the US could only gain from closer cooperation with China’s booming cinema sector.
Both sides would benefit from more co-productions between US and Chinese companies, as these are exempt from Beijing’s tight limits on the screening of foreign blockbusters, he argued.
Only 34 foreign films are allowed cinema releases in China each year, limiting Hollywood studios’ ability to cash in, but “there’s no limit” on co-productions, Wang pointed out.
Legendary’s “The Great Wall”, starring Matt Damon, has been billed as the first such blockbuster Chinese-US co-production.
Damon, in Davos to promote his water charity, told AFP on Tuesday he would work on another Chinese co-production “in a heartbeat”.
Wang, who has been talked of as a potential buyer of Paramount Pictures, reiterated his interest in buying one of the “big six” Hollywood companies.
“Of course if we’re able to buy one of the top six that would be a great thing to do. However, these six companies are not in a selling mood,” he said.
If they were, he added, “I would be a happy buyer”.
He added that Hollywood studios would be wise to think more about the kinds of films Chinese movie-goers want to see, given the potential of the market.
“Chinese films tend to talk about emotions, relationships with people,” he said.
“If Hollywood wants to take up a large market share, they need to learn to cater to Chinese tastes — not just these films about superheroes,” he commented.