Bipartisan Lawmakers Plan Private Meeting with Disney CEO Bob Iger, Other Business Leaders to Discuss U.S. and China Trade

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is planning a three-day trip to California this week to meet privately with Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger and a number of other top tech executives to discuss the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China over intellectual property and trade issues.

According to reporting from Axios, a delegation of about ten lawmakers will be led by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), chairman of the newly formed House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party. The politicians will meet first with Disney CEO Bob Iger on Wednesday to discuss the company’s relationship with China, followed by meetings with Hollywood producers, former studio executives, and screenwriters.

Unnamed sources tell Axios that the meetings will be held privately and will focus on constructively gathering insight into the viewpoints of American business leaders as they relate to their trade relationships with China.

In the past, Disney has had a strong presence in the Chinese film market, which restricts many foreign films from being shown in China. Studios have attempted to appeal to China by avoiding the use of Chinese villains. Many studios have also edited their films for the Chinese market with racy or subversive content, with Disney getting many of its films on the distribution list.

In a 2020 speech, former United States Attorney General William Barr accused The Walt Disney Company of “kowtowing” to China. “Walt Disney would be disheartened to see how the company he founded deals with the foreign dictatorships of our day,” critiqued Barr.

Gallagher, the delegation leader and Chair of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, has also been critical of Disney’s relationship with China. “We want to make sure that the power of the Chinese economy is not seducing certain companies into betraying American values,” Gallagher said during a recent interview on “Face the Nation”.

A recently passed defense bill goes so far as to restrict the U.S. government from spending money on movies that are altered specifically to appeal to the Chinese government. A legislative aide representing the House Select Committee has shared with Axios that this week’s private meeting with Iger and other executives is meant solely for constructive dialogue. The aide saw the meetings as a rallying effort to gather ideas from the various leaders on how best to compete with China.

Outside of the United States, Chinese box offices brought in more money for Disney films than the next six countries combined in 2019. The impressive figures have been on the decline, however, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of popular Disney exports, including all four Marvel films released in 2021, were blocked from being released in Chinese movie theaters.

The group of lawmakers will also meet with a group of Silicon Valley leaders on Thursday, including Microsoft President Brad Smith. The tour is expected to wrap up on Friday with a private meeting between the committee and Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple.

Meanwhile, China has reopened its borders to foreign tourists, allowing American guests the chance to visit Shanghai Disneyland for the first time since the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

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