China starts probe into Meituan as Internet-industry crackdown widens

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A food delivery courier for Meituan rides a motorcycle in Beijing, China. (Bloomberg)

China is investigating delivery giant Meituan over suspected antitrust practices, the latest move by Beijing to tighten its grip on the country’s increasingly powerful tech industry.

China’s top market regulator, the State Administration for Market Regulation, on Monday said it had launched a probe into Hong Kong-listed Meituan for suspected monopolistic behaviors, including the practice of so-called “er xuan yi,” or “choose one over two.” The practice prevents merchants from selling their goods on multiple platforms.

Meituan, which acts as an online marketplace for restaurants and other merchants, said it would actively cooperate with the investigation and seek to improve its compliance management. It added that its various businesses are currently operating normally.

The investigation comes after dozens of China’s largest technology companies, including Meituan, earlier this month publicly pledged to comply with antimonopoly laws after Beijing blocked the initial public offering of Ant Group Co. and hit tech giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. with a record $2.8 billion fine.

Meituan had said in its pledge that it won’t adopt unreasonable restrictions to force merchants into exclusivity measures.

The move on Monday also confirmed fears among some investors that Meituan would be the next target after authorities concluded their monthslong probe into Alibaba and appeared set to expand the crackdown beyond the business empire of Jack Ma, China’s best-known entrepreneur. Those concerns sent Meituan shares tumbling over 12% in the two trading days following news of the fine imposed on Alibaba.

Meituan is China’s third-most valuable internet firm, behind videogame developer Tencent Holdings Ltd. and e-commerce giant Alibaba, with a market value of more than $200 billion. Its shares have more than tripled in the past 12 months as the pandemic triggered a global demand boom for online products and services.

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The “er xuan yi” exclusivity practice has been of central concern for regulators as Beijing seeks to rein in China’s fast-growing internet industry. The SAMR repeatedly highlighted its scrutiny over such practices in the Alibaba probe and earlier this month ordered 34 tech firms to revamp operations, especially with respect to these exclusivity measures.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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This article is sourced from livemint

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