Academic journal article China Perspectives

Marching In: China's Cultural Trade in Official and Press Discourse

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Marching In: China's Cultural Trade in Official and Press Discourse

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

The trade in cultural products remains one of the most persistent points of contention between China and its trading partners. Since the beginning of the '90s, continuing high rates of media piracy, the relatively low import quota for motion pictures and the various barriers erected against foreign participation in the media market have brought the Hollywood lobby to press for trade pressure against China.This led to three episodes in which the United StatesTrade Representative (USTR) threatened to sanction China for its alleged failure to protect US intellectual property rights. Trade wars were only narrowly averted each time, after protracted negotiation. As a result, China swiftly instituted comprehensive intellectual property legislation and enforcement mechanisms.*1)

It also provided an extra stimulant for China to gain WTO membership. While China had started accession procedures to GATT in 1986 already, the post-Tiananmen environment had lent extra urgency to this issue. After 1989, the leftist wing of the Party had retrenched its ideological and economic position, until Deng Xiaoping used his "southern tour ( nanxun ËK ) to continue the market-based reform process. As the Party would henceforth base its legitimacy on economic performance, WTO accession was a means to ensure that China - through its export-based growth model, would become so reliant on the market economy and foreign trade, that it would become impossible to turn the reforms back.*2) In China's international politics, joining the GATT (and later, the WTO) also had another big boon. Its multilateral nature, and the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism would protect China from having to go through arduous bilateral trade negotiations on a regular basis, and from a non-renewal of its Most-Favoured Nation status by the US Congress.

At the same time, the post-Tiananmen environment that stimulated external trade, had also demonstrated to the leadership that control over public communication - which had lessened during the Eighties - had to be reasserted in order to prevent further organized dissent.*3) Furthermore, the leadership had been severely shocked by the abrupt end of Communism in Eastern Europe, which it largely ascribed to Western "peaceful evolution'' efforts. *4> Hence, in the area of audio-visual media, the priority remained to keep foreign influence to a minimum. Concern about the ability of the Chinese cultural sector to withstand a foreseen onslaught by Hollywood further strengthened this resolve.*5)This is reflected in China's services commitments: while the import quota for foreign films were raised to 20 per year, foreign media enterprises would be limited to minority participation in joint ventures, in certain designated areas which were less sensitive, or where the leadership wished to acquire foreign know-how and technology.The resulting situation - persistent high rates of piracy and low returns from the increasingly enticing Chinese market - frustrated Hollywood, and illustrated the conflict between the fundamentally differing vision of cultural products between the US and China. Where Hollywood's ambitions are mainly commercial, requiring an open market, China sees media products as important political tools, requiring control.

This frustration led to the USTR filing two requests for consultations in 2007. DS362, China - Intellectual Property Rights and DS363, China - Audio-visual Products and Services.These respectively called into question denial of copyright to unauthorized products and criminal enforcement thresholds, and a number of import and distribution barriers discriminating against non-Chinese media enterprises. As such, they are not "typical'' trade cases, neither in terms of product covered (films, television programmes and music), nor - to a certain extent - in terms of the specific measures addressed.They are at the nexus of interrelated aspects of international and domestic politics, both in the United States and China, involve complex questions which, according to some observers, are on or even over the edge of what the WTO should concern itself with, <6> and illustrate the potential conflict between a trade order established on liberal economic principles and Chinese authoritarianism. …

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