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On a drizzly Thursday morning in Shanghai, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Bob Iger and a phalanx of Chinese Communist Party officials cut the ribbon on the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort.
“This is one of the most exciting and important moments in the history of the Walt Disney Company,” Iger said.
He then drew gasps of surprise from the mostly Chinese crowd, as he began reading a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama, who offered some thoughts on the significance of the joint venture mega-resort’s launch.
“Blending a U.S. business with the beauty and rich cultural heritage of China, this resort captures the promise of our bilateral relationship,” Obama said in the letter.
“With the opening of Shanghai Disney Resort, Disney is providing the people of China with family entertainment for all of China and its Mainland.”
Obama added that the resort “reflects the growing relationship between our nations.”
“It promotes further cultural exchanges and underscores the importance of China continuing to make itself more attractive to investment from around the world, that is mutually beneficial to both our countries,” Obama wrote.
Chinese president Xi Jinping also sent a letter of congratulations to Disney and its local partners. The Xi letter was read by Wang Yang, the vice premiere of China. The Chinese president said he was a “strong supporter and advocate of this cooperation project,” congratulating Disney and the Shanghai government on the successful completion of the resort.
“By adding to the classic Disney style a stroke of Chinese characteristic, and by blending international standards with best local practices, the resort demonstrates our commitment to close cultural cooperation and our innovation mentality in the new era,” Xi stated.
Shanghai party secretary Han Zhang and Bob Iger cut the ribbon jointly with the vice premiere. Fireworks then exploded over the Shanghai Disneyland Castle, Disney’s “largest and most technologically advanced castle in the world.”
Noting the grey skies over the Disney castle, Wang told the crowd that he had reassured Iger that rain signifies an auspicious start in Chinese culture. “Rain is also a signal of good fortune, so I would like to call this a rain of U.S. dollars and Chinese RMB,” he joked.
The Shanghai Disney Resort, the result of 26 years of negotiations, planning and development, is a joint venture between Walt Disney Co. and a consortium of Chinese state-controlled companies called the Shanghai Shendi Group. Disney holds a minority 43 percent stake in the theme park, an arrangement that was crucial in getting the local backing to build. (Disney did retain operational control, however, owning 70 percent of the management company created with Shendi to run the resort.)
Along with six themed “lands,” including one devoted to Pirates of the Caribbean, the Shanghai Disney Resort includes a Broadway-style theater, live entertainment venues, two hotels, a shopping district with over 50 retailers, a 123-acre recreational park and Disney’s “tallest, largest and most interactive castle.”
Iger has said the Shanghai park is as important for Disney today as the establishment of Walt Disney World in Florida was for the company in the 1970s.
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