China's Wanda Plans to Invest Billions More in U.S. Entertainment Despite "Trade Tensions"

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Wang Jianlin

The conglomerate's billionaire chairman says in Davos that "trade will be affected by the tension between the two governments," but he doesn't expect to slow his Hollywood buying spree.

Chatting with Reuters during the kickoff to the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, said his Dalian Wanda Group will continue to invest mightily in the U.S. entertainment industry despite coming trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The real estate tycoon turned movie mogul said Wanda has set aside $5-$10 billion for overseas investments each year. He specified that entertainment and sports will be his focus, while the United States is his first choice of target market, followed by Europe.

"Certainly trade will be affected by the tension between the two governments," Wang said in regard to the Chinese leadership and the incoming administration of president-elect Donald Trump. "If I can lobby I'm willing, but I'm not capable of lobbying both."

Although Trump has promised to take a harder line on China, alleging that the country is a currency manipulator and blaming it for American job losses, Wang said he doesn't think the president-elect will go so far as to adversely affect Wanda's plans by blocking capital from flowing into the United States.

"We will go to invest in the U.S., and I believe they will not close the door to us, but maybe they will have some regulations regarding trade," Wang said.

Wanda is already China's most notable dealmaker in Hollywood. The company acquired Legendary Entertainment, a financial backer of blockbusters like Jurassic World and The Dark Knight, for $3.5 billion last year — the biggest China-Hollywood deal to date. The company has also agreed to acquire Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Golden Globe Awards and the Miss America pageant, for $1 billion. In December, Wanda-owned AMC Entertainment completed acquisitions of Carmike Cinemas and Odeon and UCI Cinemas in the U.K., extending its position as the world's largest movie theater operator by far.

The buying spree has caught the attention of some U.S. lawmakers, however. On Nov. 30, incoming Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter that the takeover of Hollywood companies by China firms like Wanda should be examined more closely to determine whether it is being orchestrated to serve Chinese government interests. 

Wang has said on several occasions that his U.S. media investments are motivated only by commercial intent. Regardless of the political pushback and emerging possibility of fresh regulation, he doesn't appear to be moderating his ambitions. In Davos, he reiterated to Reuters his past statements about wanting to buy a second U.S. movie studio. He said his progress has only been hampered by the fact that few are currently willing to sell.