Those who pay attention to business news have probably noted an interesting and curious phenomenon over the past few months: China is smashing its internet companies. It started — or at least, most people in the U.S. started noticing it — when the government effectively canceled the IPO of Ant Financial, then dismantled the company. Jack Ma, the founder of Ant and of e-commerce giant Alibaba, was summoned to a meeting with the government and then disappeared for weeks. The government then levied a multi-billion dollar antitrust fine against Alibaba (which is sometimes compared to Amazon), deleted its popular web browser from app stores, and took a bunch of other actions against it. The value of Ma’s business empire has collapsed.
But notice that China isn’t cracking down on all of its technology companies. Huawei, for example, still seems to enjoy the government’s full backing. The government is going hell-bent-for-leather to try to create a world-class domestic semiconductor industry, throwing huge amounts of money at even the most speculative startups. And it’s still spending heavily on A.I. It’s not technology that China is smashing — it’s the consumer-facing internet software companies that Americans tend to label “tech”.
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