Are Alibaba’s moves proof that China’s “tech crackdown” is over?

Jack Ma’s resurfacing and Alibaba’s revamp could give the impression that China is becoming more friendly to big tech than it has recently.


That’s the signal policymakers have been trying to send. At the Central Economic Work Conference in December, government leaders pledged support for big tech so it can grow larger, hire more, and expand internationally as headwinds to economic growth mount. But while the government seems to be hinting at easing regulations, there’s no doubt that its involvement in corporate affairs will continue. As Trivium China senior analyst Tom Nunlist points out, the so-called tech crackdown “was not a monolithic event.”

When regulators say the crackdown is “basically complete,” what experts hear is “normalized supervision.”


“Investigations are concluding, but they have caused a permanent shift in behavior and expectations,” Martin Chorzempa, senior fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics, explained, citing the example of another Ma-founded business: Ant Group. The fintech giant had to sell off 50% of its lending business to state companies to dilute its control and raise capital, as well as cutting its ties to Alibaba, which meant Ma relinquished control of the company.

The state’s grip on tech companies is not getting looser. Government entities are increasing their so-called “golden shares” in private firms like Tencent and Alibaba, giving the state “direct influence over firms, for example with seats on boards of directors and control over content strategy,” said Chorzempa. That’s a U-turn from 2015, when such shares were a means of reducing government intervention, allowing “the state to relinquish its majority shareholding.”


What will likely change in 2023 is that firms won’t be blindsided by unexpected fines or uninformed probes. Beijing seems to be leaning towards taking a more deliberate approach to policy-making and policing.

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