China opens antitrust investigation into Alibaba
China’s market regulator said on Thursday that it had opened an antitrust investigation into the e-commerce giant Alibaba, ratcheting up the government’s scrutiny of one of the world’s most valuable internet companies.
In a terse statement, the State Administration for Market Regulation said it had started the investigation amid reports that Alibaba had engaged in monopolistic conduct such as placing unreasonable restrictions on merchants or other users of its platforms.
Representatives for Alibaba, which is based in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The investigation is part of a broader official pushback against the business empire of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder and by some counts China’s richest man.
In November, the market regulator released proposed rules aimed at combating anticompetitive behavior at internet companies. Earlier that month, Chinese regulators halted the initial public offering of Ant Group, Alibaba’s finance-focused sister company, quashing a listing that had been on course to be the largest in history. The move came after Mr. Ma publicly criticized Chinese regulators for being too obsessed with containing financial risk.
On Thursday, four regulatory agencies, including the country’s central bank, said officials would meet with Ant soon to discuss new supervision for the financial industry. Ant said in a statement that it would “seriously study and strictly comply with all regulatory requirements and commit full efforts to fulfill all related work.”
Alibaba holds a strong position in online shopping in China. It runs the Taobao marketplace, an online bazaar where merchants set up electronic stands to sell to customers. Alibaba’s Tmall platform caters to larger Chinese and global brands. Alibaba makes money by hosting the marketplaces and charging vendors for services.
People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, swiftly endorsed the investigation in an article that appeared to be a sign of broader backing and coordination behind the move.
“This is an important step in strengthening antimonopoly oversight in the internet sphere,” said the article, which was published on the paper’s website Thursday morning. “This will be beneficial to regulating an orderly sector and promoting the long-term healthy development of platforms.”