A Chinese woman poses for a photo with a worker dressed in a stormtrooper costume at Wanda Cultural Tourism City in Nanchang, in southeastern China's Jiangxi province, on May 28, 2016
Mark Schiefelbein—AP
By Rishi Iyengar
June 1, 2016

Three days after its billionaire owner Wang Jianlin rebuked U.S. entertainment giant Disney in a television interview, Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group on Tuesday found itself strongly denying reports of Disney characters seen at its brand new theme park in the southeastern city of Nanchang.

“Recently some media publications reported that Nanchang Wanda Cultural Tourism City’s Wanda Park illegally used some Disney characters for promotional purposes,” the company said in a statement. “After our investigation we found that the reports were seriously distorted.”

The company was referring to reports a day earlier that individuals dressed as characters like Snow White, Marvel Studios’ Captain America and a stormtrooper from iconic movie franchise Star Wars — all owned by Disney — were seen at the park. The statement went on to clarify that the characters appeared in the Wanda Mall, a nonticketed section of the 500-acre complex known as Wanda City.

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“Some relevant stores within the Wanda Mall use Disney characters on some merchandise and for promotional purposes,” the statement added. “The use is officially licensed by Disney. No infringement has occurred.”

The controversy follows remarks by Wang — considered to be China’s richest man with a net worth estimated at $28.7 billion — slamming Disney over its proposed entry into the country with a massive Disneyland theme park set to open in Shanghai in June.

“They shouldn’t have entered China,” the 61-year-old tycoon told Chinese state television Sunday. “The frenzy of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the era of blindly following them have passed. [They are] entirely cloning previous IP, cloning previous products, with no more innovation.”

Disney reacted to Wang’s statements with surprise, citing its areas of cooperation with Wanda both in China and the U.S.

“We have a good relationship with Wanda, particularly in the film distribution business, including in the United States,” a Disney spokeswoman was quoted as saying by CNN Money. “We are perplexed that Mr. Wang would choose to do public battle with us, or attempt to undermine our business in any way.”

Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com.

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