Beijing Takes “Golden Shares” in Alibaba, Tencent, Extending Online Rein

China has acquired minority stakes with special rights in units of Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings, suggesting the government extending control over the country’s internet sphere. It’s been five years since Beijing has started to take 1golden shares” in private online media and content companies, and in recent years has ramped up such activities in companies which have massive amount of user data. The stakes taken over the last four months in the Alibaba units are the first ones to come to light for the e-commerce firm. Alibaba has been one of the most prominent targets of China’s two-year-long regulatory crackdown on tech giants.

These golden shares, while typically equal to around 1% of a firm, bought by the government-backed funds or companies to gain board representation and veto rights for key business decisions.

In September last year, an investment vehicle of state-owned Zhejiang Media Group took a 1% stake in Alibaba’s Youku Film and Television unit. Zhejiang Media Group has also appointed a representative to the board of the Alibaba unit.

In December, WangTouSuiCheng, an entity under the China Internet Investment Fund (CIIF) set up by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), acquired a 1% stake in Alibaba unit Guangzhou Lujiao, whose main focus is “research and experimentation”. Beijing wants to tighten control over the content at Alibaba’s streaming video unit and web browser.

Discussions are also underway about a government entity taking a similar stake in a Tencent subsidiary in mainland China.

Other firms that have such golden share arrangements include digital freight platform Full Truck Alliance, as well as mainland subsidiaries of TikTok owner ByteDance, social networking platform Kuaishou Technology and microblogging website Weibo.

Having such golden shares can be helpful to firms when they try to secure licenses to disseminate online news and to show online visual and audio programmes.

Signs are growing that Beijing has started to ease its crackdown on China’s tech industry, and preparing to give some freedom to revive the country’s economy. Mobile transportation platform Didi, one of the highest-profile victims of the regulatory crackdown, may gain approval to relaunch its apps as soon as next week, completing a return to mobile stores as widely anticipated.

Chinese state organs have for years invested billions of dollars into high-profile private firms startups from Didi to Ant Group. In recent years, as Beijing clamped down on every sphere of the internet, official agencies have also taken nominal stakes of typically 1%, the so-called golden share.

While it’s unclear how Beijing will ever exercise that holding, beyond gaining a seat or voice at the table, it could also help the government with access to important data.

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