Back in Beijing

March 17, 2013

OK, time to catch up with a few admin issues, not to mention the news. As I mentioned previously, I’ve been spending the past couple weeks in Pennsylvania at corporate HQ getting up to speed on the new professional gig (FYI: I finally updated my bio with details). I’ve been enjoying such learning opportunities as: In-House Counsel 101, Advanced Software Licensing Models, International Corporate Structures and Tax Planning, Zen and the Art of In-House M&A, and many more. (Probably more fun than it sounds, but it helps if you’re already into this kind of thing, which I most definitely am.) Well, it wasn’t as formal as all that, but it was interesting and extremely valuable. Now I return to Beijing to take up my post.

I’ve been mostly absent on the blogging front these days, and only slightly more visible in the Twittersphere. Also, if you have sent me non-biz email recently, I’ve been a bit remiss on that front as well – sorry about that. And don’t get me started on phone calls; I have a new SIM card from work and am still trying to figure out what to do with my old one (forward calls? give everyone the new number?). If anyone has any techie suggestions, feel free to chime in; BTW, I’ve been told that you can’t forward text messages, just voice calls.

Anyway, despite the fact that I’ve been insanely busy, the news from home has not escaped my attention and, as usual I suppose, it has been equal parts fascinating, frustrating, and bizarre.

My Inbox is decidedly pregnant with stories that I wished to have time to blog about. Realist that I am, I know that it ain’t gonna happen, so I figured maybe a quick and dirty treatment of some of these might be a good way to clean things out so I can start fresh next week.

So here goes.

1. Floating Dead Pigs (aka Pigfestation) — this is the bizarre stuff, but I guess it’s also frustrating and, I admit, morbidly fascinating. You have no doubt caught the wildly weird story about the thousands of dead pigs found floating in a river near Shanghai. Yes, that’s right. Thousands of dead pigs in a river.

As you might have expected, outrage and a whole lot of clever jokes followed. The big (serious) picture here is a familiar one: food safety and environmental problems and continued difficulties in enforcing existing law. The pork soup stories closely follow all the attention paid to Beijing’s sub-par air, so it’s been a particularly tough season for the green movement.

2. Inflation Again — this belongs in the “frustrating” category. There’s not a lot to say here. Jan-Feb numbers show a roughly 4% year-on-year CPI inflation. This is something that many thought was under control, and this spike (larger than the usual Spring Festival seasonal jump) is no doubt making some folks scratch their heads. I’ll repeat what we all know: when food prices rise too fast in China, bad things can happen. Enough said. By the way, if you want to read an extremely good blog post on the subject of Chinese consumer spending/inflation, check out Brian Eyler’s “Willing to Pay – On the Cost of Living in China” over at Rectified Name. Two enthusiastic thumbs up.

3. Coca-Cola GPS — I’m not sure if this belongs in the “bizarre” category or not, but it’s certainly weird. The government of Yunnan Province recently complained that Coke had illegally mapped territory, apparently with guys using handheld devices. My first reaction was “Is this a joke?” The complaint might not go anywhere, but the issue is certainly not a joke and is all about the scary gray area in Chinese law that deals with State security. The question is to what extent obtaining basic geographical data crosses into verboten territory, and did Coke do anything wrong. I would be shocked if they did, and this is probably no more than a nuisance, but from my new perspective as an in-house guy, I shuddered a tiny bit inside when I read about the details here.

4. Restructuring Retrenchment — my last post was about ministerial restructuring, and I poked a little fun at the naming issue, particularly the lengthy proposed name for the amalgam of the General Administration of Press & Publications and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, which will apparently be the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SGAPPRFT?). This did not go over too well with some folks, so the government has responded by reducing the name from 14 characters to 10. Efficiency! No word yet on the English name, but I remain hopeful.

5. Iron Man 3 and Co-productions — I’ve spilled a lot of ink over the past year on this particular flick and the speculation over its regulatory fun and games. The Wall Street Journal’s Laurie Burkitt reported on the issue now that the film is finally being released. What’s kind of fun here is that apparently no one knows what actually happened with respect to co-production status. I’m not surprised that I don’t know, since I don’t do entertainment work anymore and don’t know any of the players involved. But these guys aren’t even telling the media at this point? Funky.

I will take exception with the point of view of one expert, Robert Cain, who Laurie quotes in her piece. Cain suggests that Disney et al may have made a conscious decision not to go for co-production status so they wouldn’t have to give up creative control to government regulators.

Really? Seems like Cain is bending over backwards trying to find a silver lining here. Look, going through Chinese censorship is a pain in the ass, and it does often mean tweaking footage for the PRC market, but that doesn’t really mean that the Chinese government has total control over what version of the film gets shown in the rest of the world, and the upside you get in terms of being labelled “domestic” is pretty nice, in my humble opinion.

Look, I don’t know what happened with Disney, DMG and the other folks who made Iron Man 3. From the rumors that circulated during production, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if abandoning co-production status (if that is what happened) was more of an acknowledgement of reality as opposed to an affirmative decision about pros and cons. Maybe someday we’ll find out. If we still care.

OK, that’s it for me. Hopefully I’ll be back to a one-issue-per-post format moving forward. Then again, I’ve already got a full week stretching ahead of me, so we’ll see how it goes.