China’s market regulator said on Thursday it had opened an antitrust investigation into e-commerce giant Alibaba, increasing government scrutiny from one of the world’s most valuable internet companies.
In a concise statement, the State Market Regulatory Administration said it started the investigation amid reports that Alibaba was involved in monopolistic conduct, such as placing unreasonable restrictions on traders or other users of its platforms.
Representatives for Alibaba, based in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The investigation is part of a broader official reaction against the business empire of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder and, according to some, China’s richest man.
In November, the market regulator released proposed rules designed to combat anti-competitive behavior by internet companies. Earlier that month, Chinese regulators suspended the initial public offering of Ant Group, Alibaba’s sister company focused on finance, nullifying a listing that was about to be the largest in history. The decision came after Ma publicly criticized Chinese regulators for being too obsessed with containing financial risk.
On Thursday, four regulatory agencies, including the country’s central bank, said officials will meet with Ant soon to discuss new supervision for the financial sector. Ant said in a statement that he would “study seriously and strictly comply with all regulatory requirements and will commit to doing all related work”.
Alibaba has a strong position in online shopping in China. She runs the Taobao market, an online bazaar where merchants set up electronic stands to sell to customers. Alibaba’s Tmall platform serves major Chinese and global brands. Alibaba makes money by hosting markets and charging suppliers for services.
People’s Daily, the main Chinese Communist Party newspaper, quickly endorsed the investigation in an article that appeared to be a sign of greater support and coordination behind the measure.
“This is an important step to strengthen anti-monopoly enforcement in the internet sphere,” said the article, which was published on the newspaper’s website early Thursday morning. “It will be beneficial to regulate an orderly sector and promote the healthy development of platforms over the long term.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Chris Buckley contributed reporting.