The Chinese government has opened wider its theatrical and TV markets to films and shows from Taiwan. The moves were announced by mainland China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday, as three among 31 policy initiatives that range from training to education and qualifications.
China says that, with immediate effect, it has removed quota restrictions on the import of Taiwanese movies and TV shows; removed limits on the number of shows Taiwanese talent can appear in; and eased co-production rules.
The policy initiatives are intended as economic sweeteners that could weaken pro-independence forces within Taiwan. Calling the moves “unprecedented,” An Fengshan, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said: “Taiwanese compatriots can share in the opportunities arising from China’s economic development.”
Taiwan has been self-ruled since the 1949 civil war when nationalists fled from mainland China and the advancing Communist army. Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China claim to be the legitimate government of all of China. The mainland government considers Taiwan to be a rebel province with which it will be reunited, by force if necessary.
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The impact of the moves on the film industry are nuanced. Five years ago, in January 2013, China previously announced that it would abolish import quotas for Taiwanese films. Despite that policy, relatively few Taiwanese films achieve a wide release in the mainland.
A greater impact may be in the production sector. “From what we understand, film makers from Taiwan will be able to use an entirely Taiwanese crew when shooting in China, where before they had to include local technicians,” one Taiwanese producer told Variety. He requested anonymity ahead of a formal response from the Taiwanese President’s office and the Ministry of Culture (BAMID).
“It may also mean that Taiwanese film makers don’t need to pay the same level of fees for censorship applications as they do now,” the producer said.
Getting approval from China’s censors, however, is not guaranteed and the producer considers that the measure favors uncontroversial, mainstream, commercial movies, rather than those from Taiwan’s active art house sector.
Similarly, reducing the numerical limits on Taiwanese talent, is unlikely to mean complete derestriction. China has actively excluded Taiwanese performers who it considers politically undesirable. In 2016, producers of “No Other Love” were ordered to remove veteran Taiwanese actor Leon Dai from the film which was in post-production at the time. Dai fell foul of mainland authorities by not being clear enough over his stance on Taiwanese independence.
Taiwan continues to maintain a quota over imports of mainland Chinese films, as many distributors fear being swamped by China’s big budget mainstream titles. The quota is set at ten per year, and potential imports are selected in an annual lottery.
In 2014, BAMID said that it would expand the quota by allowing in mainland films of artistic merit that had won major festival or awards. Taiwanese distributors, however, tell Variety that in practice the quota expansion has not happened.