Some observers had written off Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's five-day visit to the United States as heavy on pomp but light on substance. But late Friday, just before his plane left LAX, the White House announced that China has agreed to ease restrictions on the number of U.S. movies it allows into the country and the amount of revenue that studios can collect from box office ticket sales there.
Under the deal, China has agreed to allow 14 additional foreign films, at least those that are in 3-D or IMAX, into the country each year under a revenue-sharing agreement. The agreement also increases the amount of revenue that foreign studios collect from movies distributed in China from about 13% to 25% of ticket sales.
The agreement was finalized Friday in negotiations between Vice President Joe Biden and Xi, who was visiting Los Angeles on a trip to promote more trade between the countries.
Easing China's restrictions on access to its vast market has been a top priority for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, whose chief executive, Chris Dodd, met with Xi on Friday.
Dodd was joined by other studio executives, including Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger and DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, who just announced a deal to build a new animation studio in Shanghai with two state-owned Chinese media companies.
The rapid growth of the theater industry in China has made the market that much more appealing to studios, which can generate $20 million to $40 million in ticket sales per film, compared with about $1 million a decade ago. Popular movies released in China include the blockbusters "Avatar," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."
During his trip, Xi has put forth a different face than Chinese President Hu Jintao, who has a stiff public persona.
Xi attended the last quarter of a Lakers game Friday. Before that he spent much of the day with Biden. The vice presidents heaped praise on each other and their countries at several events in the Los Angeles area.
At one stop, Biden said he and Xi had spent 20 hours in private talks over the course of this visit and Biden's trip to China last summer.
He praised Xi's stamina and his inquisitive spirit, which he said was on display earlier this week after a formal dinner at Biden's home in Washington, D.C. The pair retired to the library, Biden said, where Xi asked him about the ins and outs of congressional politics.
"I get a clear sense he's trying as best he can to understand what our interests are and what our concerns are," Biden said.
"I envy a lot of things about him," Biden said jokingly, "starting with his full head of hair."
At a downtown luncheon, Xi said he had a "good personal friendship" with Biden and declared his U.S. visit "fully successful."
Xi is expected to become China's president next year, a post he will hold for 10 years. Before arriving in L.A., he met with President Obama in the Oval Office, was given a 19-gun salute at the State Department and even took tea with locals in Muscatine, Iowa, where he spent time years ago.
On Friday, both he and Biden stressed the importance of cooperation between the nations to a class of Mandarin-speaking students at the International Studies Learning Center in South Gate, a public school that emphasizes foreign language and culture.
Xi joked to students about the challenge of finding private time. "It's like the name of that American movie," he said: " 'Mission Impossible.' "
Times staff writers Walter Hamilton and David Pierson in Shanghai contributed to this report.