China is said to have asked Alibaba to sell its assets in the media sector as Beijing continues to pile pressure on the company’s billionaire founder Jack Ma.
The two sides have been in discussions over the matter since the beginning of the year, according to multiple media reports, with officials said to be shocked at the scale of Alibaba’s media interests.
The company, which is primarily focused on ecommerce, has stakes in news outlets including Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, as well as Twitter-equivalent platform Weibo.
This influence is seen as posing major challenges to the Chinese Communist Party and its own powerful propaganda machine, sources told the Wall Street Journal reported.
In an internal memo today the South China Morning Post said: “Alibaba’s commitment to SCMP remains unchanged and continues to support our mission and business goals.”
Separately today Chinese app stores removed Alibaba’s mobile browser after it was criticised on an annual consumer rights show on the state television.
UC Browser was criticised for including medical ads by unqualified companies last night and now cannot be downloaded on Android app stores. It is still available on Apple’s Chinese app store.
It comes amid a tightening of regulation on Chinese tech giants, with Ma singled out for particular scrutiny by Beijing after he criticised the country’s regulators and state banks.
The $37bn stock market float of Alibaba’s Ant Group was halted in November after regulators raised concerns, and the company has since been forced into a restructuring.
Reuters today reported that some of Ant Group’s investors have valued the payments firm at $200bn based on its performance in 2020.
This is well below the $315bn price tag it was seeking in what would have been the world’s largest IPO.