Beijing fears ecommerce giant has too much sway over public opinion through stakes in platforms such as Twitter-like Weibo, Wall Street Journal says
Alibaba may be forced to divest its stake in Weibo over fears among China’s leadership that Jack Ma’s company has too much influence. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Beijing has reportedly told the Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba to divest its assets in the media sector out of concern over the company’s growing public influence.
Its founder, Jack Ma, the ebullient and unconventional billionaire who officially retired from Alibaba in 2019 but remains a large shareholder, has been in authorities’ crosshairs in recent months.
In November, Chinese regulators halted a colossal $34bn stock market listing by Ant Group, an Alibaba subsidiary for online payments. The following month, regulators opened an investigation into Alibaba business practices deemed anti-competitive.
Now authorities have told the tech company to drastically reduce its presence in the media sector, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter.
Alibaba’s highest-profile media assets include Hong Kong’s leading English-language daily, the South China Morning Post, and China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo, and online video platform Bilibili.
Officials are worried that the company has too much influence over public opinion and were reportedly appalled about the extent of its media holdings, the Journal said.
The government did not specify whether Alibaba was requested to completely withdraw from the media or divest part of its shares.
On Friday, the Journal reported that Alibaba risks being levied with a record fine in China for anti-competitive practices, which could exceed the $975m paid by US chip maker Qualcomm in 2015.
According to the article, authorities accuse Alibaba of preventing merchants who sell goods on the platform from also selling on rival websites.