With a population of 1.4 billion and a burgeoning middle class, China is fertile ground for theme park operators. The plight of a project in the country's northeast underscores, however, that geopolitics may ultimately stymie the success of foreign entrants like Disney.
Thus far, Disney has seen positive results in East Asia. Mickey Mouse is already eating Hello Kitty's cake in Japan, where footfall at Tokyo DisneySea and Disneyland outstripped those to local players at Hello Kitty-maker Sanrio's Puroland and Nagashima Spa Land.
This week, the House of Mouse reported favorable attendance numbers at its only theme park on mainland China amid questions about the fallout from a trade war between the world's two largest economies.
Geopolitical risks for theme park operators were highlighted on Wednesday, when South Korean conglomerate Lotte revealed that the Chinese government has ordered the company's 3 trillion won ($2.6 billion) theme park project in northeastern China to be halted, Reuters reported. The move, seen as retaliation against Seoul's deployment of an advanced U.S. missile system, underscores the business risks of operating in the Communist regime.
"That is a risk for Disney and other companies. In this case, it's clear to remember that Disney is truly a global company. Obviously, the company has put a ton into Shanghai Disneyland…(and) Disney has had such close ties with the Chinese government and with the Chinese society as a whole to get to this point," he added.