The International Business Times (IBT) is an online medium created in 2006 under the idea of Etienne Uzac, a French former student of the London School of Economics. Its Singaporean edition recently published an eye-catching article about future measures by the Chinese government. It is reported that China plans to nationalize Alibaba and Ant Group. Although many internet users insist on the hypothetical nature of the news, they have answered yes to this information.
Alibaba and Ant Group nationalized. Really ?
If we dismantle the article that is so often picked up on Twitter, we discover an article from Radio Free Asia (RFA) as the only source. This medium is a United States government sponsored radio broadcasting in 9 Asian languages on current affairs for countries that do not have the free press or access to information.
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What we are not saying is that the same Congressional funded entity is often referred to as propaganda that brings one-sided views of the phenomena to the interpretation of the facts from an American perspective. It was founded in 1950 by the CIA with the aim of exerting influence (the famous American “soft power”) in Asia.
Radio Free Asia’s information has been augmented, distorted and expanded by the International Business Times of Singapore or even Outlook India with a circulation of 425,000 copies. A dynamic that later led to the reporting of this so-called news by French media such as Numerama, Clubic, BFM, Usine Digitale or even ZDNet. This example from Infox, small and irrelevant as it is, sheds light on the underlying mechanisms of disinformation. First, information is reported, obtained or not, accompanied by media bias that we know today and that necessarily reflect the opinion of the author. Depending on the unprecedented level, it is then passed on by the media and users who interpret, develop, combine and transcribe it in various forms. And now you believe it.
The article originally published by Radio Free Asia, however, wasn’t serious when you look at it a little closer. Additionally, the lapse of time between the announcement of the nationalization of Alibaba by RFA (December 25) and the acquisition by IBT (January 8) should get the chip in your ear. No media with correspondents in China and a solid investigative reputation like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times or Financial Times have so far mentioned nationalization for Alibaba or Ant Group. In addition, no official announcement has been made by the government or the companies concerned, if only to confirm or correct the statements made by the many news sites that relayed the news.
And for good reason, the advanced sources are dubious to say the least. The first but unreferenced source in the Radio Free Asia article is the official website of the Chinese Market Regulator. It includes the announcement of the investigation into Alibaba by the government agency responsible for monitoring the market due to its monopoly behavior. No reference is made to any nationalization plan. While China has done a thorough study of the practices of its business and digital giants, nationalizing a company so important to its economy was never an option.
Recall that nationalization is defined as the transfer of a company’s private property to public property by the state. Nationalization or statehood often refers to communist economies whose public ownership of resources and services enables them to plan economic development. It can also be carried out in the case of a natural monopoly in the national interest or for economic support of the company. However, China long ago triggered the death knell for the end of its economic communism, which was exchanged for a capitalism-communism that could bring it to the rank of a world economic power. Economic and financial stability is one of the hallmarks of the Chinese Communist Party, and in this case the country needs the private sector.
However, it is not wrong to claim that China, like many other countries in the world such as Europe and its recent bill specifically targeting GAFAM, is fighting hard against its network giants. . Indeed, Alibaba has recently been targeted by authorities. The company founded by Jack Ma has been the subject of an antitrust investigation for its alleged anti-competitive practices. Including a practice called “Forced Exclusivity” which would result in online retailers demanding the forced selection of a single distribution channel for their products sold online. In order to calm the markets, Beijing was quick to minimize the importance of this investigation. On December 14, the state market regulator fined 500,000 renminbi (€ 63,375.32) for failing to explain past transactions under a 2008 antimonopoly law. Alibaba reportedly increased its stake in the Intime department store chain in 2017, far from the eyes of Chinese regulators. Between minimizing the use of ongoing investigation and the weakness of the fine, it is difficult for one medium to nationalize at the same time. Yet that is exactly what was done.
However, China’s desire to better regulate its digital giants is evident and can easily be explained by its political and ideological projects, including the digital yuan, or the party’s surveillance and control of the population.
The claim that Alibaba and Ant Group, recently pressured into restructuring, could be nationalized is therefore an exaggerated formula stemming from advanced interpretation. However, to say that this is categorically impossible is just as risky. The truth is that China’s true intentions are often unclear and opaque to the government’s information control apparatus. The Ant Group should turn into a holding company, the specificity of which belongs to a legal entity that favors centralization. This should result in a company owning the Ant Group, which itself is being redistributed into subsidiaries. This type of transformation should certainly give the government more power to align the company’s practices and make it more central. We can even envision a scenario where the state would get shares in Ant Group and even Alibaba, becoming a state shareholder, but not an owner.