The Pentagon’s China Syndrome

While some senior military officials have spoken openly about the possibility of a war between the US and China, the entertainment liaison offices appear to be working to ensure that doesn’t happen.  Perhaps surprisingly, they have refused to support films, TV shows and video games where China is the adversary or antagonist, replicating the mentality shown by the Chinese government’s censorship board.

Chinese government Censorship of Movies

The Chinese government places strict controls on what can be seen in Chinese movie theaters – which now outnumber US theaters – and is relatively open about this fact.  The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television review scripts and films for import and insist on changes if the content is deemed unsuitable for Chinese audiences.  Forbidden content includes:

1) Opposing the fundamental principles laid down in the Constitution of the P.R.C..
2) Jeopardizing the unification, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the State.
3) Divulging State secrets, jeopardizing the security of the State, or impairing the prestige and interests of the State.
4) Inciting hatred and discrimination among ethnic groups, harming their unity, or violating their customs and habits.
5) Propagating cults and superstition.
6) Disrupting public order and undermining social stability.
7) Propagating obscenity, gambling or violence, or abetting to commit crimes.
8) Insulting or slandering others, or infringing upon the legitimate rights and interests of others.
9) Jeopardizing social ethics or fine national cultural traditions.

This has seen a number of blockbusters being recut to appease the censors and gain access to the Chinese market.  In China, Mission: Impossible 3 was shown without a scene showing clothes drying on a clothesline in Shanghai, because they felt it was not a positive portrayal (though it is an accurate one).  Skyfall had to lose a scene in which Bond kills a Chinese security guard, because the censors didn’t like a Chinese citizen being killed by a foreigner.

2010’s The Karate Kid was co-produced with a Chinese studio but the censors didn’t like the fact the villain was Chinese.  In total, 12 minutes were chopped out of the film before it could be shown in China.  A 3-D version of Top Gun was banned from China because it showed American military dominance.  Men in Black III had to remove a scene featuring the flashy thing that is used to erase people’s memories, because the censors felt it might be a reflection on China’s internet censorship policies.

The Pentagon’s Policy Towards China

While the growth in the importance of the domestic Chinese movie market has seen Hollywood studios pre-empting the censorship board and increasingly packaging their films for Chinese audiences, the Pentagon has got caught up in this too.  This is a recent development – an Army entertainment liaison office report from 2005 shows that having a Chinese adversary wasn’t a problem at that time:

“West Wing.” Working with the writing staff on developing a, er, well, (her words) “realistic” scenario that has the show’s “President Bartlett” staging an intervention in Kazakhstan, trying to keep Russia and China apart. Since the show historically has rarely bothered to let realism get in the way of telling their story, my hope is that at least the numbers and force structure I described might make it in. The “realistic” scenario development is ongoing and is for a show that will air in the next two months.

However, the more recent reports show repeated concerns about productions where China was the enemy or the antagonist.  An untitled Activision/Blizzard FPS caused problems because it depicted a future conflict between the US and China, leading the Army to insist they find an alternative scenario:

(FOUO) Activision/Blizzard video game (FOUO) (OCPA-LA) OCPA-LA was contacted by Activision/Blizzard, the largest video game publisher in the world. They are in the initial stages of a new project designed to create a realistic representation of a Soldier in 2075. They are interested in discussing the U.S. Army of the future; equipment, units, tactics, etc. Have scheduled an introductory meeting this week to discuss. While their interests will require an outside paid consultant, our interest is to correctly establish and frame the Army brand within the game while still in development. Update: ██████ and ████████ met with company president and game developers. Expressed concern that scenario being considered involves future war with China. Game developers looking at other possible conflicts to design the game around, however, developers are seeking a military power with substantial capabilities. ASSESSMENT: Anticipate game release will be very high-profile and comparable to recent ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Medal of Honor’ releases. Will likely sell in the range of 20-30 million copies. Supports Adapting our Institutions and Maintaining Our Combat Edge.

It appears this game was never made.

Similarly, the Marine Corps (who would no doubt be deeply involved in any future US-China war) provided no official support to Operation Flashpoint 2 because of the ‘anti-China sentiment’ in the game.  Likewise they rejected a request from the producers of the remake of Red Dawn because the forces invading the  US were Chinese (this was later changed to North Korean forces in post-production).

“Red Dawn” – MGM: Producer, Tripp Vinson, forwarded the treatment for the remake of the 1984 film. LA PAO has reviewed the script and will not support in accordance with DoD Entertainment Office reply unless production is willing to change the opposing forces in the script.

The Navy have adopted a similar approach, rejecting Dr Peter Navarro’s request for assistance on a documentary about a possible future war with China:

Will There Be War With China? (23a: low-scale distribution company)
Speculative documentary on implications of China’s military buildup written and directed by UC Irvine professor Dr. Peter Navarro. Requesting to interview three Naval War College professors onsite. NAVINFO West declined producer in Dec. 2013 regarding similar documentary titled ‘The Coming China Wars.’ Highly unlikely to approve support based on lack of valued proposition/speculative storyline.

This project would eventually become the series Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World.

Exactly why the Pentagon’s mindset on China has changed so much in just a few years is not clear.  Following the 2012 agreement between China and the US on Hollywood’s access to the Chinese market things have been a little better, but the Chinese government still exercises a lot of control over and restrictions on that access.  I simply don’t know why the Pentagon have adopted this policy within their entertainment liaison office system, whether the motive is primarily political, economic or military.  I do know that no one would win in a war between the US and China, so let’s hope like Christ it doesn’t happen.

Documents

US Army entertainment liaison office reports 2005-6

US Army entertainment liaison office reports 2010-15

US Marine Corps entertainment liaison office reports 2008-15

US Navy entertainment liaison office reports 2012-17

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