CITIES LOBBY FOR CHINA'S DISNEY PARK.
Many parents secretly dread the day their children will beg to go to Disneyland, but officials in Hong Kong and Shanghai hope the pestering will start soon.
Hong Kong is in talks with The Walt Disney Co. about building a park here. In Shanghai, which hopes someday to unseat Hong Kong as China's financial center, the mayor is publicly clamoring for a Disney park.
The race to get Disney underscores a longstanding rivalry between the two cities. Although it remains unclear whether Disney is taking a serious look at Shanghai, Mayor Xu Kuangdi has some powerful allies in Beijing, which can't hurt.
Top Chinese leaders from Premier Zhu Rongji down are pushing Disney to locate in Shanghai and build a smaller park in Hong Kong, according to a source familiar with Disney's China operations. The source spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Although Zhu called on Disney Chairman Michael Eisner during his recent tour of the United States, it's unclear whether they talked about Shanghai or Hong Kong or both.
For China, engaging Disney marks a dramatic change from just three years ago, when officials threatened to rein in its business over a film about the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
Eisner clearly has his eyes on China, where he has predicted millions of people will ``love Mickey no less than Big Mac.'' But not all things Disney may succeed here. ``Mulan,'' an uncontroversial animated tale of a legendary Chinese heroine, was recently released in China but reportedly drew far fewer fans than expected.
Analysts warn that it will take more than just fans for any Disney park to succeed among the Chinese. The fans also have to be able to pay.
``You're talking about trying to attract fairly poor people to an expensive place,'' said Andy Xie, an economist with Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong. Xie estimates a mainland Chinese family of three would have to spend about $700 - half a respectable yearly salary - for a quick visit to a Hong Kong Disneyland. Incomes in Hong Kong, a prosperous former British colony, are higher.
Although Shanghai boosters say a park there could lure 9 million visitors a year, and Hong Kong talks about 5 million, Disney will focus on the right mix of financing, available land and government approval, said Christopher Dixon, New York-based entertainment analyst for PaineWebber.
``There's no question that if they build a theme park, people will come,'' Dixon said. The trick is to make money, too.
For now, Disney won't say whether it's talking with Shanghai, the same stance the company took for months as rumors swirled about a park in Hong Kong.
But spokesman John Dreyer wouldn't rule out a Shanghai Disneyland. ``There's no reason why we can't have a park in Shanghai as well as Hong Kong,'' Dreyer said.
Hong Kong officials refuse to discuss Shanghai's intentions, though they hope to have their own Disney deal in hand by June, a prospect that has become the talk of the town as Hong Kong struggles through recession.
PHOTO (Color) A mother and child stroll past a display of Disney characters in Hong Kong. Officials hope to lure a Disney theme park to the city.
Vincent Yu/Associated Press