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2017-02-27 07:05:37

Disney in China has denied any involvement in a Disney-themed project currently being planned in central China, even as a company linked to a senior Disney employee appears to have completed deals with local governments to do exactly that.

The news follows recent rumors that Disney was going to build a second resort on the Chinese mainland, in addition to its Shanghai location that opened last year.

Those rumors appear to be linked to the “Walt Disney Zhengzhou Project,” mentioned on Nov. 19, 2015 by the website of Zhongmu County, which is administered by Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan.

The site describes a ceremony held that day in which representatives of the governments of Zhengzhou and Zhongmu signed a cooperation agreement with Dimei International Culture Investment Co., represented by Disney international special project director Meng Dekai.

Local news outlet Henan Business Daily reported Wednesday that a contract was signed in January of last year with a total investment value of 3 billion yuan ($437 million), of which 600 million yuan was expected to be invested by the end of this year. The article appeared to have been removed but could still be accessed through Google’s cache on Monday.

The report said that once completed, the project would include, among others, a Disney administration and operations center, a fantasy-themed shopping street, a translation and postproduction center for foreign films, animation training facilities, and an animation-themed family resort. The project, to be located in Zhengzhou’s International Cultural and Creative Industry Park, also appears on an official list of major construction projects in the province planned for 2017.

But The Walt Disney Company (China) told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper on Thursday that it had sent a statement to the Henan provincial government saying Disney was not an investor in the park and was not involved in its construction.

The Paper found five additional companies registered in Zhongmu that were linked to Meng, but Disney said it had no connections with them, and as such would not comment on the matter further. Disney also said it does not comment on the individual behavior of its employees. It did not refer to Meng by name.

Disney said it had, however, signed a memorandum with the Henan government in November 2015 aimed at developing the province’s retail industry. The company said it had authorized third parties to provide Disney merchandise to the cultural park’s visitors. It didn’t specify the names of those parties.

The report on the Zhongmu government’s website also mentions this memorandum, and says it was signed at the same ceremony in November 2015. It notes the attendance of Zhang Zhizhong, also known as Stanley Cheung, as well as the attendance of the vice-governor of Henan province. It refers to Zhang as the chairman of Walt Disney Greater China.

In a separate statement issued to Sixth Tone on Friday, Disney repeated that it had no connections with the companies mentioned in earlier media reports, including Dimei, and said it had never authorized anyone — or any of those companies — to sign deals with local governments on behalf of Disney.

A lawyer who would only give his surname, You, and says he represents Meng, confirmed to The Paper on Friday that Meng is an employee of Disney. He declined to comment on Meng’s alleged connection to the Zhengzhou Disney project.

Sixth Tone could find no information about Dimei International Culture Investment Co. on China’s company credit information database. However, a search did reveal information about a similar-sounding Dimei International Culture Development Ltd. That entry referred to a company registered in Zhongmu County and listed Meng as its legal representative. Records show that Meng is a legal representative or shareholder for at least 11 companies registered in that county. All of their names begin with the Chinese character di — the same character that forms the first part of the name “Disney” in Chinese. Most of the companies are related to real estate or event-planning.

A search of company registrar records in Hong Kong using Dimei’s Chinese name yielded a company with the English name “DeeMagic International Culture Ltd.,” which was registered in 2014. The records list a “Lin Yu” as board director for the Hong Kong company. That person is also listed as a shareholder and company supervisor for the Zhongmu registered Dimei, as well as another company owned by Meng.

The Henan provincial government, the Zhengzhou City government, and the Zhongmu County government all declined requests for comment from The Paper and Sixth Tone.

In addition to Henan, projects purporting to have links with Disney have also been reported in other parts of the country, including the eastern provinces of Anhui and Zhejiang, as well as Inner Mongolia in northern China.

Disney has two official theme parks in greater China: one in Hong Kong and one in Shanghai. The Shanghai Disney Resort, which officially opened its doors last summer, covers almost 1,000 acres and cost $5.5 billion to build. The resort is a joint venture between Disney and its Chinese partner, Shanghai Shendi Group Co. Ltd.

(Header image: Employees wearing Mickey Mouse ears stand in front of a large screen during a press event at the Shanghai Disney Resort, July 15, 2015. Johannes Eisele/AFP/VCG)