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Golden shares let China’s government take control of big tech

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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

China and many others think big tech companies are far too influential and powerful, so by taking Golden Shares in them China’s government can now control them and veto decisions.

 

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In their attempt to rein in companies that are becoming too powerful, or which don’t toe the government line, the Chinese government has announced that it’s to take “Golden Shares” in two of its biggest tech companies, Alibaba and Tencent, as Beijing extends its influence on the country’s star tech firms and its most powerful and wealthy business people.

 

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Beijing’s move marks a shift away from imposing hefty fines and sanctions in its two-year tech crackdown, which was launched after Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, criticised regulators.

The crackdown has proved tumultuous for Chinese tech firms, with billions wiped off their value, and moves including blocking the flotation of Ma’s financial services firm, Ant Group, which would have been the world’s biggest IPO.

Earlier this week the fintech company announced that Ma, once China’s richest man but now living in self-imposed exile in Japan, would cede control of the company. However, the government’s approach has weakened foreign investment and the competitiveness of the Chinese tech market, resulting in a softening and change of tactical approach to keeping its big tech in check.

 

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Beijing recently took a small equity stake in the Twitter-like Weibo and in ByteDance, the privately owned parent of TikTok, which is known as Douyin in China, as a means for the state to become more directly involved in business operations.

The move to take stakes in the local operations of Alibaba and Tencent, which usually amount to about 1%, have been dubbed “golden shares” as they come with special rights over business decisions.

Within China the stakes are known as “special management shares” and have been used since 2015 by the state to exert influence.

On 4 January, a division under the state investment fund established by the regulator Cyberspace Administration of China acquired 1% of an Alibaba subsidiary, Guangzhou Lujiao Information Technology. Alibaba owns social media entities including Youku, dubbed China’s YouTube, and the web browser UCWeb.

 

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The state is in the process of taking a similar approach with Tencent – which operates China’s most popular streaming service, Tencent Video, and an array of other offerings including the WhatsApp-like WeChat, music streaming and gaming – according to the Financial Times.

The government also has a stake in a local entity owned by Kuaishou, a smaller rival to ByteDance’s Douyin, through the state-owned Beijing Radio and Television Station.

The streaming service Bilibili, the Nasdaq-listed business that began as subculture destination for anime, gaming and comic fans, is also pushing for a state entity in Shanghai to take shares in one of its subsidiaries, according to the FT.

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