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China denies pressuring Disney Co.

BEIJING (Reuters) — China denied Thursday that it put pressure on the Walt Disney Co. for backing Martin Scorsese’s film about the life of Tibet’s exiled god-king, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing accuses of fomenting unrest in the region.

“The Chinese government … has never put pressure in any way on the Disney Co.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang said at a news briefing.

He was responding to comments about a letter from showbiz notables delivered to the Chinese ambassador in Washington, D.C., that criticized alleged attempts by Beijing to censor on China-related films.

Cooperation sought

“We only hope the Disney group will be able to better cooperate with China in relevant areas,” Shen said. He did not elaborate.

The entertainment giant is eager to expand into Asia, particularly China, where demand for U.S. products is high. It remains to be seen if Disney’s involvement in the film in question, “Kundun,” will hurt its ambitious business plans in China.

China said last month Disney would be wrong to make a film singing the praises of the Dalai Lama.

Disney has said it would go ahead with the U.S. release of “Kundun” despite China’s objections.

A group of 41 actors, actresses, producers and directors — including Paul Newman, Oliver Stone and Bernardo Bertolucci — on Wednesday wrote to China’s ambassador to the U.S. protesting what they said was Beijing’s “attempt to impose worldwide censorship” on films in or about China.

The letter said China’s warning to Disney was the latest incident in a persistent effort by the Beijing government to censor the film industry.

They included a list of 12 occasions on which they believed the Chinese government had interfered with productions.

The Dalai Lama fled his Himalayan homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Communist rule, and won the Nobel Peace Prize 30 years later for his nonviolent campaign for autonomy for Tibet.

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