Taking its war against Jack Ma-founded empire to a serious level, Chinese regulators have slapped a record fine of 18.2 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) on e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding. The fine has been imposed on Alibaba for violating anti-monopoly rules as the country seeks to rein in the power of internet conglomerates.
“Alibaba accepts the penalty with sincerity and will ensure its compliance with determination,” the Hangzhou-based company said in a statement.
“To serve its responsibility to society, Alibaba will operate in accordance with the law with the utmost diligence, continue to strengthen its compliance systems and build on growth through innovation,” it added.
According to South China Morning Post (owned by Alibaba), the fine on Ma’s company by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) was more than double the previous record of 6.1 billion yuan paid by chip-maker Qualcomm. In November, China proposed sweeping antitrust regulations targeting its tech industry and in December, SAMR launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba.
The regulators SAMR, determined that Alibaba had been “abusing market dominance” since 2015 by forcing its merchants to sell on one of the two main e-commerce sites in China instead of letting them choose freely. In an opinion piece on Saturday, People’s Daily said the fine by no means denies the “important role of internet platforms in economic and social development”, nor does the fine mean any change in the state’s attitude of supporting internet platforms.
The fine was “aimed to promote healthy and continuous development of the country’s internet industry,” it added.
The Chinese government last month asked the conglomerate Alibaba to dispose of its media assets.
According to a The Wall Street Journal report citing people familiar with the matter, Chinese officials are more “concerned about the technology giant’s sway over public opinion in the country”.
Alibaba expanded its footprint in the media sector by acquiring the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper launched 118 years ago in Hong Kong. The company also has notable media holdings in mainland China, including technology news site 36Kr, state-owned Shanghai Media Group, stakes in the Twitter-like Weibo platform and several popular Chinese digital and print news outlets. China’s top market watchdog began an investigation into alleged anti-competition practices by the e-commerce giant Alibaba and also laid out a “rectification plan” for Ma’s fintech venture.
The agenda was that Ant Group should return to its roots in payments and bring more transparency to transactions. Ma later disappeared from the public view, triggering speculation of him going “missing”. He was seen only in January when a video of him appeared on Chinese social media. Alibaba’s holdings in publicly listed companies had a combined market value of more than $8 billion.