China only allows 20 US films into her theaters in any twelve month period. This quota has been a bone of contention between Hollywood and the communists for some time.
The past week, however, the white house and mainstream press have claimed a victory in this arena.
“MPAA celebrates new film agreement with China (1)”
Due to the diligence of men like Joe Biden and Xi Jinping – China’s next president, a deal was hammered out which would allow fourteen more US movies per year to enter the People’s Republic of China (2).
Even in defeat, the US proclaims victory.
After 20 years of hounding and threatening, the Chinese will finally allow more US films to be shown at their theaters, so what’s not to like?
The ‘victory’ that the mainstream media and White House are proclaiming is actually a major defeat, and further evidence of US leaders kowtowing to the rulers of communist China.
“What?” You ask. “The US won a big victory and is forcing the Chinese to allow more movies. Sounds like a winner to me.”
And of course, this change is in fact being packaged up to media as a winner. Just like most of what we hear about business in China. The truth, however, may be nothing more than a pyrrhic victory.
U.S. Submits to China
Please allow me to explain. According to the3 2011 REPORT TO CONGRESS of the U.S.-CHINA ECONOMIC AND SECURITY REVIEW COMMISSION ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS FIRST SESSION, China’s actions are still not in compliance with what they promised to do when entering the WTO.
The fact is that within three years of entering the WTO, China was to open her market to ALL US movies, not just a handful.
But of course, facts like this are buried in governmental reports and not mentioned by US power brokers.
According to Henry Gao, since joining the WTO, China has morphed from a rule taker to a rule shaper (4). In addition, instead of becoming a responsible member state, China has
“…become much more aggressive about bringing claims against trading partners, appealing decisions that are rendered against its favor, and pushing the envelope of noncompliance…. China has grown very savvy about using the dispute settlement process and bilateral free trade agreements to undermine the effectiveness of China-specific rules…. were designed to use the dispute settlement process to change or undo rules contained in China’s Accession Protocol. These cases purposely turn on vague terminology… China has exploited this weakness by using a creative interpretation to render entire provisions inapplicable. (5)”
What this means is that, as opposed to obeying the laws and agreements to which it has an obligation to follow, China has done its best to skirt laws or rules that are too “inconvenient” to follow.
An example of how China has avoided her promise to open her market to movies is found in the government report (6) under the heading “Stonewalling the WTO: A Case Study in China’s Intransigence”.
Upon joining the WTO, China agreed:
“…to permit, within three years of accession, all persons and enterprises, both foreign and domestic, to import and export all goods throughout the territory of China, except for a specific list of products reserved for monopoly by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) (7).”
China’s WTO non-compliance
On April 10, 2007, the US brought a complaint to the WTO alleging that China had not fulfilled her obligations to allow the US movie industry free access into the Chinese market.
The US argued that by blocking US movies, China had formed a monopoly on such ‘cultural items’ ie, movies. By not abiding by WTO guidelines, China was in non-compliance since 2003.
China argued that it was in compliance and the assertion of the US was incorrect. China said that a GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) measure allows countries to ‘protect public morals’.
Thus, by disallowing American movies, China was doing nothing less than protecting the hearts and minds of her citizens.
The reasoning behind China’s actions are two-fold. First off, as the global economy slows, China is becoming more protective of its industries (8). The fear of the communist party is that a domestic slowdown will lead to unemployment and perhaps violence. Thus, they will do whatever it takes to provide jobs.
The second reason revolves around communist China and censorship.
The Chinese censor all films coming into the country. The term ‘protecting morals’, is actually a euphemism for censorship. The excuse of ‘protecting morals’ gives the leaders of China wide latitude in precluding entry of foreign books, movies, and all forms of media into China (9).
Under the auspice of protecting public morals, the communists rule the media with an iron hand. It is contingent upon website owners to self police and remove anti-communist rhetoric or anything that may be deemed inappropriate (10). This idea of self policing extends to all forms of media as well.
In the 2007 WTO case, China used this ‘self censorship’ as an excuse for disallowing more American movies. The Chinese companies, they said, know how to self-censor, but foreigners to not.
Thus, if more foreign films were allowed into China, it would mean more work for the censors and they would be overwhelmed. The subsequent cost would be prohibitive and thus, allowing more movies was a non-sequitor.
A Deal Where the US Loses
While the move by China to open her doors to a few movies more is being commended, it should be mocked.
The reality is that China is still in non-compliance with the mandates of the WTO more than ten years after joining.
Some would say that it is a good thing that China is at least allowing more US movies to be shown. They contend that this move shows how China is changing, but isn’t it really must more of the same?
The reality is that China is not obeying the dictates as she promised to. So by saying that it is a victory to have China blocking ALL but 24 movies seems ironic.
A parallel would be to laud the action of a wife beater who now only strikes his spouse three times a week instead of five. Should the man be commended? He is, after all, improving isn’t he?
Perhaps a more benign example could have been used, but sometimes there is a need to be dramatic to showcase just how horribly how foolish U.S. efforts to placate the Chinese have become.
By using the term ‘protecting the morals of her citizens’, China is merely buttressing the Hulk-like grip it possesses in all forms of the media (11). And it is through the use of this censorship that China continues to suppress her people.
The reason is that China’s censors provide weekly mandates on what must be talked about in the press, and what must be avoided in the media and the movies.
An example regarding the Google/China spat provides insight into how the communist party influences the media
“3. All websites please clean up text, images and sound …. which attack the Party, State, government agencies, Internet policies with the excuse of this event.
4. All websites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which support Google… ask Google to stay, cheer for Google and others have a different tune from government policy. (12)”
The dictates of what can be said and what is prohibited are considered state secrets, and thus are not shared outside the confines of communist members. As a matter of fact, anyone divulging such things is dealt with harshly.
Spoon-Feeding Citizens the Truth
As it stands, the communist party has its way with local filmmakers and the local Chinese have no idea what the communists are hiding or which ideals they are forcing the press to focus upon.
Thus, through its dictatorial command of the media, the communist party spoon feeds its version of the truth to hundreds of millions of people each day.
If the doors to the media were to be opened, the party fears it would lose control and or face. For as it stands now, the opacity of the communist influence enables the party leaders a measure of plausible deniability when it comes to censorship. The party can claim ignorance of why certain things do not make it into the movies or mainstream media.
But, if China were to open up to more foreign movies, the opacity would dissipate. The communist party would have to explain to filmmakers what they can and cannot do. In addition, the party would have to explain why lines in a scene or even characters had to be cut.
If this were to happen, the genie would be out of the bottle – so to speak.
What the party is censoring would provide more insight into its fears and concerns (13). In addition, the Chinese people would understand which issues the communists were grappling with and could figure out why (14).
If the common folk had this knowledge, or so the communists fear, then anarchy could ensue (15). The fear is that if all 1.34 billion Chinese really knew what was going on behind the closed doors of the communist party (16), then there could be a revolt (17). Thus, the communist party does its best to effect the ‘morals’ of the Chinese by dictating what they can see and here.
When viewed in light of these facts, it seems as if the US has caved in to the ruling communist party and accepted terms that should have been unacceptable from the start.
By acquiescing to China on this issue, the US is implicitly condoning China’s strong-handed and oppressive tactics. In light of these facts, what did America really win?
References & Image Credits:
(2) Xi Jinping will be president but Hu Jintao will retain the true power in China as he will presumably remain as the leader of the communist party.
(3) Global Security
(7) Ibid – supra
(8) Business Week
(10) Computer World UK
(12) Business Insider
(15) A good example would be during the melamine milk scandal in 2008. By stifling the press, the communist party ensured that the scandal was not broken until after the Olympics, although they knew of the problem six months prior. Subsequently, the involvement of the communist party was hidden from public view.
(16) Another good example would be the earthquake of 2008 where the communist party declared the area effected off limits to all foreign press. It later came to light that the poorly constructed school houses crumbled due to ‘tofu construction’, while the headquarters of the communist party members were unaffected. Had news of this been readily available outside of the immediate vicinity, who knows what the Chinese would have done.
(18) Want China Times