Beijing: That round-eared mouse dancing with kids? Not a copy of Disney’s Mickey Mouse, the Shijingshan Amusement Park insists. And that raven-haired woman with seven men in elf suits? Not Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Such rampant Chinese copying has strained ties with the United States, whose trade deficit with China soared to $232.5 bn last year. Both governments are preparing for what are expected to be contentious talks May 23-24 in Washington on Beijing’s trade policies, its currency and other issues.
On 9 May, Chinese delegation signed deals at a ceremony in San Francisco to buy $4.3 bn in US technology in an apparent effort to ease American anger. The contracts went mostly to software, semiconductor and telecommunication companies including Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.
China regularly makes such purchases of US jetliners, soybeans and other goods before high-level contacts. But it was unclear what effect the latest buying spree might have on the souring US mood.
Facing rising criticism from Congress, the administration of US President George W Bush has threatened trade penalties over product piracy. Washington last month filed a World Trade Organization complaint against Beijing.
China is a leading source of unlicensed copies of goods ranging from music and software to sports equipment and heart medicine. Officials say such piracy costs legitimate foreign and Chinese suppliers billions of dollars a year in lost sales. The International Intellectual Property Alliance, an industry group, estimated losses to Chinese piracy of books, films, music and software last year at $2.2 bn.
Beijing has raised penalties for violators of patents, copyrights and other intellectual property and launched repeated crackdowns. But foreign industry groups say violations are growing faster than enforcement, driven by China’s roaring economic expansion that has raised incomes and provided a market for consumer goods, both real and fake.
Even in a country awash in pirated music and movies, the state-owned Shijingshan park stands out. “We do not have any agreements with Disney,” its deputy general manager, Yin Zhiqiang, said Wednesday. “The characters in our park just look a little similar to theirs. But the faces, clothes, sizes and appearances are different.”
A banner over the entrance said, “Disney is too far, so please come to Shijingshan.” On Wednesday, the banner was down and none of the cartoon characters were on display. An employee who would give only her surname, Li, said the performances usually occur during the summer and holidays.
Lawyers for the park and Walt Disney Co. were in negotiations, said Yin, the deputy general manager of the park, which is owned by the government of Beijing’s Shijingshan District. A Disney spokeswoman, Alannah Goss, declined to comment but sent a statement affirming Disney’s determination to fight copying.
“Disney values and protects its intellectual property vigorously and takes reports of suspected infringement seriously,” the statement said. However, despite striking similarities to foreign characters, Yin insisted Beijing park’s are locally designed.