Disney Chairman Bob Iger Meets Chinese President Xi Jinping Ahead of Shanghai Theme Park Opening

Bob Iger China GETTY H 2016
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The president is said to have applauded Disney's efforts to boost bilateral relations with China.

Disney CEO and chairman Bob Iger was welcomed by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday for a rare official meeting in Beijing.

The tete-a-tete comes one month before Disney is set to throw open the doors on its Shanghai Disney Resort theme park, which has been over $5.5 billion and 15 years in the making.

"China and the United States share common interests," Xi told Iger, according to the state-backed news service Xinhua, which was in the room during the meeting.

"The two countries' economies are complementary and there is great potential and wide prospects for trade cooperation," Xi added, saying that China would facilitate more exchange with foreign companies and organizations.

The Chinese president is also said to have applauded Walt Disney Company — and the U.S. China Business Council (USCBC), where Iger serves as vice chair — for their efforts to boost bilateral relations with China. Xi offered his congratulations to Iger on the planned opening of Shanghai Disney Resort on June 16. 

Some local commentators noted that it was an unusual honor for a private business leader to be greeted by the president at the Great Hall of the People, the ceremonial seat of China's legislature.

Iger agreed to the importance of extending trade ties between the two nations, stating: "What The Walt Disney Company has been able to achieve in China, I think, is a perfect example of cooperation, but it also came after years of understanding, years of building up a deep respect for one another and appreciation for each other’s interests.” 

The Disney chief has met the Chinese president before, but Thursday's gathering was understood to be their first one-on-one meeting in Beijing. During his state visit to the U.S. in September, Xi took part in a business roundtable in Seattle attended by Iger, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Warren Buffet and other elite U.S. business leaders. 

Xi comments about the importance of bilateral cooperation come amid a backdrop of growing tension between China and Western media and entertainment interests. Over the past few months, Xi has given a succession of speeches to China's tech and media giants, emphasizing — or ordering — strict adherence to the Communist Party line, while also arguing for the elevation of "China's core socialist values" over Western cultural interference.

In April, China blocked the websites of the Economist and Time magazine. Apple Inc. and Dinsey are among the latest to get swept up in the crackdown on Western content. Apple's popular iMovies and iBooks services abruptly went dark there late last month, with local reports indicating that the closures were ordered by Chinese regulators. Days later, news came that DisneyLife, a China-based OTT platform set up by Alibaba to stream licensed Disney movies, cartoons, games and more, had suffered a similar closure some weeks prior. Both companies have said they hope to get the services up and running again.