Private meeting to lure Disney

Premier Zhu pressed Walt Disney chairman Michael Eisner to make a move on building a theme park in China.

Sources said that during a private meeting, the Premier did not indicate whether Shanghai or Hong Kong was the preferred site.

But a Disney spokesman said a park in each city was not impossible, raising hopes that both Hong Kong and Shanghai could benefit, an option backed by the Shanghai Government and revealed by the Post.

It is understood Mr Zhu and Mr Eisner discussed other possible Chinese-US ventures in the entertainment and video businesses during the brief meeting in Mr Zhu's suite at the Century Plaza Hotel.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said the 30-minute discussion was a 'courtesy call, a meeting between old friends'.

The building of a theme park in China was 'a business question and it will be resolved in a business-like manner', he said.

While talking to the local Chinese community yesterday, Mr Zhu, known as the 'father of China's Disneyland', said he had no preference as to the site of China's first Disney park.

'I'd be very happy wherever it is built, so long as it is within China,' he said.

But retired businesswoman and old Zhu friend Caroline Ahmanson said she thought Mr Zhu preferred Shanghai.

Mrs Ahmanson, who met Mr Zhu for 30 minutes yesterday, accompanied him on a tour to Disneyland while he was mayor of Shanghai in 1990.

'Zhu was then very enthusiastic about a Disney park in Shanghai and he himself carved out a plot of land for it in Pudong,' Mrs Ahmanson told the Post. 'Shanghai is likely still his favourite.' A Walt Disney spokesman said no decision had yet been made on whether to build a park in China and stressed there was no deadline - certainly not June as stipulated by Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen - for the decision on Hong Kong.

He said the United States had two Disney theme parks and there was no reason to believe China could not have more than one park.

In Shanghai, the news that Disney had not ruled out two parks was welcomed, but the Hong Kong Government declined to comment.

Wang Junyi, vice-chairman of Shanghai Foreign Investment Commission said while Shanghai could attract more mainland tourists than Hong Kong, the city had an edge over other mainland cities in getting the project.

'Her geographical location is unique - at the beginning of Yangtze River and in the middle of the coastal area. Among the other cities, Shanghai is the centre,' he said.