Chinese regulators announced an antitrust investigation into e-commerce giant Alibaba Group on Thursday, stepping up official efforts to strengthen control over China’s fast-growing technology industry.
The market regulator said it was considering Alibaba’s “choose one of two” policy, which requires business partners to avoid contact with competitors. The one-sentence statement did not provide details of possible penalties or a timetable for publishing the results.
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Chinese leaders said earlier that the economic priority next year would be to strengthen antitrust enforcement. They appear to be particularly concerned about the tightening of control over Alibaba and other dominant Internet companies that are expanding into finance, healthcare and other businesses.
The founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, is the richest Chinese entrepreneur and one of the most famous personalities in the country.
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Regulators have previously forced a suspension of debits on the stock exchange of Ant Group, a network financial platform that spun off from Alibaba.
A separate statement Thursday said Ant officials had been invited to a meeting with regulators.
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Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce company by total sales, and another company were fined in mid-December for failing to apply for official approval before proceeding with some acquisitions.
In November, the government announced proposed regulations aimed at preventing anti-competitive behavior by Internet companies, such as signing exclusive contracts and using subsidies to squeeze out competitors.
Similar pressure is taking place in the United States, especially with advertising. Lawmakers and regulators are investigating companies like Facebook and Google for anti-competitive practices.
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Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission accused Facebook of buying out its rivals rather than competing with them, and urged Facebook’s WhatsApp and Instagram acquisitions not to unwind.