China vows further curbs on 'disorderly expansion' by tech firms

Self-driving vehicles and platform economies have been listed as areas that require stronger regulation. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China will take further steps to rein in Internet companies, a senior cyberspace official said, citing the shared economy, online healthcare and smart delivery as areas of concern.

Vice-Minister Sheng Ronghua told the World Internet Conference on Monday (Sept 27) that curbing monopolistic behaviour and the "disorderly expansion of capital" were top priorities for the Cyberspace Administration of China.

Mr Sheng also listed self-driving vehicles and platform economies as areas that required stronger regulation.

"We need to build a solid legal foundation for anti-monopoly efforts and prevent disordered expansion of capital," Mr Sheng said at the annual conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province. "A sound data-management and trading mechanism will also be built."

Mr Sheng's comments suggest that the effort could extend to new firms.

Regulation of shared economy or smart delivery applications could impact Meituan, for instance, while Baidu has worked on autonomous driving and Alibaba Health Information Technology and JD Health International do business in the online healthcare sector.

The conference was started by President Xi Jinping to showcase the globalisation of China's digital sector, and its opening on Sunday was joined by Tesla boss Elon Musk and the chief executives of Intel, Qualcomm, Cisco Systems and Nokia.

In comments conveyed to the event by Vice-Premier Liu He, Mr Xi said China would work with all countries to create a vibrant digital economy and improve regulation.

Since its first public use by the Politburo in December, the phrase "disorderly expansion of capital" has expanded from a criticism of platform companies to an explanation for actions against technology moguls, celebrities and private tutors.

Mr Sheng's latest remarks could temper optimism that Mr Xi is looking to ease his market-roiling crackdowns after declaring "initial results" last month in the efforts to bring order to such capital.

China has ramped up the campaign with a series of monopoly probes into Internet companies, a record fine for Alibaba Group Holding and new demands on leading digital firms like Tencent Holdings.

The country is pushing its tech titans to share their data troves, open up their platforms to greater competition and support opportunities for smaller businesses.

"We are looking to improve the regulations on shared economy and platform economy to safeguard their healthy growth," Mr Sheng said. "We are also looking to set up frames for the management of areas in autonomous driving, online healthcare and smart delivery."

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