Country refuses to ease pic import quotas

BEIJING — China has no intention of easing film import quotas any time soon, despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former president George H.W. Bush’s mission to Beijing seeking greater access to China’s markets.

“The Chinese film market cannot fully open,” State Administration of Radio Film and Television Film Bureau director Tong Gang told the state-run People’s Daily Web site Tuesday.

The People’s Daily Chinese-language print edition is the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

It has been 11 years since China imported the first Hollywood blockbuster, “The Fugitive.”

In 2001, in the run-up to China’s entry to the World Trade Organization, Chinese authorities approved an unprecedented number of foreign films, including 12 U.S. pics.

The increase was in line with the government’s agreement to double from 10 to 20 the unofficial quota of foreign films released per year on a revenue-sharing basis.

Motion Picture Assn. of America figures show that China released 15 Hollywood films in 2002, the same number in 2003 but fell back to 14 in 2004. There are no figures for 2005 yet.

However, the People’s Daily Web site reports China’s intention to unspool 50 imported films a year in line with bilateral agreements China and the U.S. reached in 1999 before China’s entry into the WTO. That figure surprised the MPAA.

David Wolf, president of Beijing-based media consultancy Wolf Group Asia, said: “If China’s film market does not open, it will wither and eventually be absorbed by the television and interactive businesses. And that would be a loss not just for China but for the global industry.”

Calls for the protection of Chinese films are nevertheless still popular in the country, as the industry fears Hollywood.

“How to protect the national film industry is not just a problem China faces,” the People’s Daily article said, implying China’s quota system will continue, and citing the special cultural exceptions that protect the film industry in France and South Korea.

Tong said 3% of the revenue from TV commercial production is earmarked for a special film fund but made no mention for any similar scheme for the take from the 15 billion yuan-20 billion yuan ($1.85 billion-$2.47 billion) he claims as China’s annual box office take, a number that has raised eyebrows in a domestic industry decimated by piracy.

“I would be most interested in how SARFT managed to derive that statistic,” Wolf said. “It smacks of late-1950s harvest estimates.”

Tong’s statement comes not long after Saturday’s wrap of the Golden Roosters, China’s film awards, where “foreign” films, actors, actresses and directors competed for the first time.

China defined “foreign” as originating from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The first two are already under Chinese sovereignty, with the last being claimed by China as a breakaway province.

Such a definition flies in the face of an increasing number of films co-produced by Hong Kong shingles and classified as mainland releases under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement between the Chinese government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Hong Kong star Jackie Chan was the only “foreigner” who won an award, taking home the actor trophy.

(William Triplett in Washington contributed to this report.)

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