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.
Now comes the fun part.
After getting an earful from Vice President Joe Biden inÂ WashingtonÂ about intellectual property rights and a cuff full of hog leavings at a farm inÂ Iowa, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping now will tourÂ HollywoodÂ 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.
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 theÂ PortÂ ofÂ 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 âMr. Xi goes to Hollywoodâ 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.
âThis 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,â says Mr. Dube.
He mentions a recent film called âFlowers of Warâ with Christian Bale that was the most expensive film ever made inÂ ChinaÂ but didnât do well inÂ ChinaÂ or theÂ US. The Chinese are interested in films that do very well globally â and that has meant big special effects and 3-D movies in the mold of âAvatarâ and âTransformers.âÂ
Dube saysÂ ChinaÂ wants to mimic US âsoft powerâ â its ability to influence world culture.
âSoft power refers to the ability to have people attracted to you, and that is what theÂ USÂ has in abundance and what Xi wants to know more about,â says Dube.
He says the Chinese have developed their own âChinaâs Got Talent,â with three judges based on theÂ American model. A 65-year-old grandmother recently won by dancing to Michael Jacksonâs hit, âBeat it.â
âThe Chinese are very frustrated that it was Hollywood and not them which came up with âKung Fu Panda,â " he says, talking of the recent animated hit. âThey said, 'Hey, Kung Fu is ours, Pandas are ours. Why canât we do that?' â
Dube and others say that, as theÂ Chinese try to learn to create like Americans,Â HollywoodÂ will use Xiâs visit to talk about Chinese investment in American films.
TheÂ L.A.Â visit will also be a time to loosen the collar a bit, say other analysts.
"This visit is coming at a sensitive time, in that Apple has come under criticism for working conditions at its plants inÂ China, and tensions are escalating as iPads are being seized over a trademark dispute with a company in Shenzhen,â saysÂ Maria Toyoda, aÂ political scientist at VillanovaÂ University in Philadelphia, in an e-mail. âSo, piracy may be an issue that would be raised in a delicate way, if at all."
"This visit is mostly about trade," she says. "Xi wants to head off any tensions, business people on both sides are using the coattails of this visit to cut deals, and CaliforniaÂ mayors are looking for investment and job growth.â
After urging theÂ USÂ on Wednesday to reduce its âmisunderstanding and suspicionâ ofÂ China, Xi will have the chance to share hot dogs with Mayor Villaraigosa atÂ L.A.âs other major world attraction that interests the Chinese: the Los Angeles Lakers. They will attend a game Friday night against the Phoenix Suns atÂ StaplesCenter.
Dube says Kobe Bryantâs jersey was the biggest selling NBA item inÂ ChinaÂ last year, and even women in rural areas know key statistics, trades, and game nights.Â
T-shirts and bags in China read: â âHuren Duiâ, which means 'Men of the Lake Team,' " says Dube. âXi will be a very popular man all overÂ ChinaÂ for having gone to see them live on their home court.â
And thatâs just one side of the equation.
âA visit like this is meant to show Xi to Americans as a much warmer and down-to-earth personality, and more approachable" than former President Hu Jintao, says Carla Freeman, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. âIt sends a signal that the Chinese are interested in more than just politics in Washington, butÂ AmericaÂ as a whole and as a people.â