KC Business Journal: AMC’s Biggest Shareholder Wants to Advise Trump Against Limiting Chinese investment
News story originally published at BizJournals.com
By Brian Kaberline
The billionaire who owns the majority of the AMC Theatres chain wants to send a message to President-elect Donald Trump: There’s a lot at stake—including 20,000 jobs—when it comes to the government’s stance on Chinese ownership in the U.S. movie industry.
Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group Co. Ltd., said in a speech Saturday that he’s asked Motion Picture Association of America CEO Chris Dodd to deliver a message to Trump.
“I told him to tell Mr. Trump that I have $10 billion of investments in the United States and more than 20,000 employees there who wouldn’t have anything to eat should things be handled poorly, and nothing else mattered,” Wang said, according to a transcript. “At least in the film and television industry, you must understand that the growth of English films depends on the Chinese market.”
Dalian Wanda Group bought a controlling stake in AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. in 2012. It now owns more than 77 percent of common stock, and 91 percent of voting power, in Leawood-based AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.
That ownership stake in AMC takes on greater significance due to a pair of big acquisition deals. AMC became the largest theater chain in the world last month when it completed a $1.2 billion purchase of Odeon & UCI Cinema Holdings Ltd. AMC also stands to become the largest theater chain in the U.S. when its $1.2 billion acquisition of Carmike Cinemas Inc. receives regulatory approval.
Wanda and Wang also have bought U.S. movie production company Legendary Entertainment and U.S. TV production company Dick Clark Productions and made an unsuccessful run at a big stake in Paramount Pictures.
A group of 16 U.S. House and Senate members have pushed for greater scrutiny of Chinese influence in the movie industry. They have stated concerns that Wanda’s Hollywood ambitions constitute a “soft power” play aimed at spreading Chinese culture.
Wang’s comment about sending a message to the incoming U.S. president came in response to a question about concerns of lawmakers.
He attributed the attention to Wanda’s growth and to the U.S. political system. Wanda now has “a bit of influence in the U.S.,” he said and has been the subject of sanctions talk because “now they think this kid is getting too big for the U.S.”
The bigger reason for such talk, he said, is that lawmakers in this country can say whatever they please.
“Congress is a place of speaking, even a place of disorderly speaking,” he said, and its actions are separate from the U.S. government’s attitude.
The Center for American Security, a group that has led criticism of Wanda’s purchases in the U.S. entertainment industry shot back at Wang.
“Wang Jianlin’s aggressive posturing … is meaningless,” Executive Director Richard Berman said in a release Monday. “While Wanda has clearly grown more influential in the U.S. movie industry, all of his acquisitions had employees before he engaged in buying them. These are not new jobs nor are they dependent on ownership. In fact, the profits from these acquisitions will flow to Communist China, not to U.S. interests or shareholders.”
AMC Entertainment CEO Adam Aron said in an interview with the Kansas City Business Journal that the company and its largest shareholder freely share ideas on operations. But he stressed that AMC and Wanda are two different companies.
“Wanda … really is letting us run the company here,” Aron said. “They know everything we’re doing. They’re supportive of everything we’re doing. But they’re not telling us what to do. And we’re not asking permission for what to do.”