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Tencent joins China tech firms in pledging antitrust compliance

Tencent
Tencent (REUTERS)

China’s government, worried about the growing influence of internet giants like Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, has in the span of a few months brought its giant technology sector to heel.

Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba’s supermarket arm joined their fellow Chinese tech giants in vowing to eradicate monopolistic practices, as the country’s largest corporations rush to publicly align themselves with Beijing.

The WeChat operator, Alibaba’s Freshippo and ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing were among 11 Chinese tech giants that issued pledges Thursday to obey antitrust laws, two days after Beijing gave companies a month to conduct internal reviews and comply with government guidelines. Twenty-three companies have now issued vaguely worded statements promising everything from consumer rights protection to loosening controls over their platform, stopping short of outlining specific actions.

China’s government, worried about the growing influence of internet giants like Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., has in the span of a few months brought its giant technology sector to heel. Beijing regulators torpedoed Ant’s $35 billion initial public offering one month after Ma infamously attacked officials for being behind the times, launched an anti-monopoly probe into Alibaba in December, then finalized by March new rules intended to curb monopolistic practices across its entire internet landscape.

In landmark announcements over the past week, it slapped a record $2.8 billion fine on Alibaba for abusing its market dominance, then ordered an overhaul of Ant Group Co. On Tuesday, regulators summoned 34 of the country’s largest companies from Tencent to TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd., warning them “the red line of laws cannot be touched.”

More of China’s largest companies are expected to issue pledges Friday. It remains unclear whether the watchdog or other agencies might demand further action: top financial regulators now see Tencent as the next target for increased supervision, Bloomberg News has reported. And the central bank is said to be leading discussions around establishing a joint venture with local technology giants to oversee the lucrative data they collect from hundreds of millions of consumers, which would be a significant escalation in regulators’ attempts to tighten their grip over the country’s internet sector.

In its statement on Thursday, Tencent promised to refrain from anti-competitive practices including exclusive arrangements. Bilibili Inc., Kuaishou Technology and Trip.com Group Ltd., which is set to debut next week in Hong Kong, were among 10 other firms that issued brief statements Thursday.

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