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China Launches Anti-Piracy Effort
By TED ANTHONY, Associated Press Writer

ZHUHAI, China (AP) - They really brought out the big guns for this one: Giant balloons reached toward the clouds. Hundreds of customs agents stood in rows, listening to marching music that included a chunk of "It's a Small World After All." FM 95.1 went live.

And amid it all, outside the Ping Pong Pavilion of the Zhuhai Athletic Center stadium, 15 industrial-strength wood chippers all in a row did just what they were trotted out for Tuesday afternoon - made minced plastic out of 16 million counterfeit CDs, DVDs and CD-ROMS.

"This is one of the most important issues facing us today," said Shi Zongyuan, the official in charge of anti-piracy efforts in southern China. "Getting rid of pirated CDs will give us a much-needed economic boost."

China mounts such a spectacle every few months - though usually on a smaller scale than Tuesday - to show that it is serious about stopping rampant product piracy.

The events get lavish coverage in state media, but the real target audience is abroad - China's angry trading partners. Foreign producers of music, film and software say Chinese pirates are ruining their businesses.

The publicity usually recedes, only to resurface several months later.

But as China's virtually certain membership into the World Trade Organization approaches in November, such crackdowns are being spotlighted - and, China says, being carried out - even more than usual.

Conferences have been convened, harsh statements released. In March, Premier Zhu Rongji went so far as to say that counterfeiting was making him lose sleep.

Last month, China announced investigations of Rolex and Seiko watches, Kodak and Fuji film boxes and medicine bearing well-known British trademarks.

The list goes on. Fake cigarettes, fake name-brand rice, even fake Pearl River Bridge soy sauce have been seized in recent weeks - and duly reported by Chinese media.

But the event Tuesday in Zhuhai, infused with the spirit of a communist rally, was extraordinary in both scale and organization.

This was press release as public spectacle. Who - especially photographers and TV reporters - doesn't like to see something crushed by big machines that make a lot of noise? It made for great visuals, as organizers well knew.

Zhuhai sits on the southern Chinese coast beside the former Portuguese colony of Macau. The region is both a major export-manufacturing base and the heartland of China's piracy industry.

Chinese journalists were shipped in from all over the country to watch, their hotel rooms paid for by organizers of the rally. A glossy brochure full of customs agents in action was distributed. The event was timed with TV in mind: it began at 12:13 p.m., so state television's noon news could carry it live.

And the sprawling patch of pavement on which it took place was ringed by giant tractor-trailers filled with pirated CDs. Each was guarded by a glowering young customs agent with an automatic weapon.

"We've had this kind of event before, but never on this scale," said one of the agents lined up to watch the event. She gave her name only as Miss Shi.

Even the giant banners smacked of old-style sloganeering. Their yellow characters on a scarlet backdrop could, 25 years ago, have easily been the thoughts of Chairman Mao.

The version Tuesday, though, said: "Raising the national awareness of copyright protection. Cracking down on the smuggled and pirated compact discs. Regulating and standardizing the cultural market."

The CDs, most of them unlabeled, were still in the containers in which they were smuggled, whether it was plastic shrink wrap or hollowed-out false bottoms of boxes.

The trucks' rear doors were open, giving the sense of an entire landscape of confiscated discs.

After they were chopped up, the shards of discs were hauled away by the truckload to an uncertain future. Chinese officials couldn't say whether they would be recycled, or simply dumped.

"Today's destruction represents a warning - don't try it," said Zhong Yangsheng, a member of the standing committee of the communist party's Guangdong branch.

Added Liu Wenjie, deputy director of Guangdong Customs: "We still have many places to look."

The only Westerner in sight was up on the dais with 40 Chinese officials. Mike Ellis, vice president of the Asia-Pacific arm of the Los-Angeles based Motion Picture Association of America, praised China for its efforts and said he believed the country was "committed to dealing with this problem."

Such public destruction of counterfeit goods, he acknowledged, is geared for publicity - but has an important purpose, too.

"Yes, it's an example to demonstrate what they're doing. But it's a reflection of hard work," Ellis said. "You get the message out there - that what people are doing is wrong."

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