Two people directly familiar with the matter said that Pony Ma, the taciturn founder of Tencent Holdings, China’s largest social media and video game company, met with officials of the Chinese antitrust watchdog this month to discuss his group’s compliance issues.

This meeting is the most concrete sign to date, showing that China’s unprecedented antitrust crackdown began at the end of last year, starting with billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba business empire, and will soon target other Internet giants.

Beijing vowed to strengthen supervision of large technology companies, which are the world’s largest and most valuable companies, on the grounds that they have established market forces that stifle competition, abuse consumer data, and violate consumer rights.

The two and a third party with direct knowledge of the matter said that Tencent’s WeChat messaging and payment mobile applications are ubiquitous in the world’s second largest economy.

News of the meeting has not been reported, earlier than Tencent’s December quarterly results announced on Wednesday. According to data from Refinitiv, analysts expect its quarterly profit to grow by 42%, although investors will focus on supervision.

People familiar with the matter said that Ma Xiaoma, who has been out of public sight for more than a year, attended China’s annual parliamentary meeting in Beijing this month and visited the office of the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) the previous week.

Two people with direct knowledge said that the billionaire founder of Tencent is a parliamentary representative in Guangdong Province, where the company is headquartered, and he asked to meet with Gan Lin, SAMR’s vice president, and other senior officials.

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Tencent and SAMR did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

A person familiar with the matter said that at the meeting, the two parties discussed how Tencent can better comply with antitrust regulations. Tencent is Hong Kong’s most valuable stock with a market value of US$776 billion (approximately Rs 563,030 crore).

According to the second person, Wu Zhenguo, director of the SAMR Anti-Monopoly Bureau who participated in the meeting, expressed concern about some of Tencent’s business practices and asked the group to abide by antitrust rules.

The two said that SAMR is collecting information and studying WeChat’s monopoly practices and how super apps can compress fair competition and squeeze smaller competitors.

It is not known whether SAMR officials pointed out specific cases of violations of antitrust rules by the group to Tencent executives. The group is the world’s largest video game company by revenue.

Due to the sensitivity of the matter, all sources refused to disclose.

Thomson Reuters 2021 ©

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