China's Wanda defends appearance of Disney characters near new theme park

Visitors take photos beside a dragon fountain at the Wanda Cultural Tourism City in China on May 28, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese conglomerate Wanda on Tuesday (May 31) defended the appearance of Disney characters in a newly opened complex containing a theme park that its owner bills as a rival to Disneyland.

Wanda said in a statement that Disney characters had appeared in a shopping mall that is part of "Nanchang Wanda Cultural Tourism City" but not in the theme park itself.

"Some relevant stores within the Wanda Mall use Disney characters on some merchandise and for promotional purposes. The use is officially licensed by Disney. No infringement has occurred," Wanda said.

Pictures showing Snow White and Captain America characters within "Wanda City", in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, embarrassed the firm after its founder Wang Jianlin boldly declared that the craze for Disney characters was over.

After the images emerged, Disney told the China Daily newspaper that the "illegal and substandard imitations unfortunately disappoint all who expect more" and vowed action to protect its intellectual property.

Wanda's park opened just weeks before the US entertainment giant launches its own attraction in Shanghai.

Before his park's opening last Saturday, Mr Wang - China's richest man - said he was setting his sights on Disney.

"This craze for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck is over, the period when we would blindly follow where Disney led has been gone for years," he said during a long interview with CCTV.

"We want to ensure that Disney will not be able to make a profit in this (theme park) sector in China for between 10 and 20 years," he added.

But experts say Wanda's goals are ambitious, pointing to the group's lack of experience in the market.

Disney's US$5.5 billion project in Shanghai will be its sixth theme park after success in locations including Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

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