Disney exports Mi Lao Shu (aka Mickey Mouse) to £2bn China park

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The Independent Online

As the buildings used in this year's World Expo are taken down in Shanghai, China's commercial capital is getting ready for its next big global tourism draw – the mainland's first Disney theme park, which will cover four square kilometres and cost £2.2bn.

The project was given the go-ahead last November, which was not a guarantee that it would ever be completed in a city where property laws are a decidedly moveable feast. But Disney is adamant that it is fully on track to bring Mickey Mouse and friends to China's financial hub and biggest city.

Talks have been going on for more than 10 years about placing a Disney park near Shanghai, but the Beijing Olympics in 2008 acted as a distraction. Four years from now, however, the Communist authorities and the House of Mouse alike hope that Shanghai will be full of happy children meeting their cartoon heroes. China's target to build a Disney World by 2014 is on track, and investment in the theme park could reach tens of billions of pounds. As the Disney president Robert Iger said in a blog: "China is one of the most dynamic, exciting and important countries in the world, and this approval marks a very significant milestone for the Walt Disney Company in mainland China."

The company already has resorts and theme parks in Tokyo and Hong Kong but they have not been unalloyed successes. The Hong Kong venue, which was hugely hyped when it opened, made a loss last year after failing to attract as many visitors as expected. The Shanghai project will probably take the form of a joint venture between the city government and Disney, with the latter handling investment management.

The chosen site is a piece of farmland not far from Shanghai's new international airport at Pudong, albeit a piece of farmland whose residents realise that their property is rising in value incredibly quickly.

The expansion of Disney's parks and resorts business is similarly important to the American leisure giant. While it is best known for films, the theme park business accounts for about a quarter of the company's revenue. That income has been threatened by the recession, particularly in the US.