Top market regulators in China announced on Wednesday night a large batch of antitrust punishment. Tech majors Didi, Alibaba, Tencent, Suning, and Meituan were fined the maximum penalty under current law for violating the Anti-Monopoly Law by not declaring deals to the regulators.

Why it matters: Wednesday’s punishment involves 22 investment deals (in Chinese). Although the fines of RMB 500,000 ($77,350) each are trivial to the tech giants, it’s the largest batch since Chinese regulators began to crack down on major tech companies late last year. 

Details: The State Administration for Market Regulation fined at least five tech companies over 22 investment deals for violating market concentration rules. The earliest deal dates to 2011, the most recent closed in September 2020. 

  • Didi accounts for eight of the 22 fined deals, Alibaba six, Tencent five, Suning two, and Meituan one. Many of the deals are made through subsidiaries of these majors. 
  • These deals span the past decade. The earliest deal goes back to 2011, involving Tencent acquiring parts of Cheetah Mobile, a Beijing-based software company. 
  • The most recent deal closed is a 2020 deal of Tencent buying 32.4% equity of the classify site 58.com. 

Attorneys’ take: Despite having the power to enforce divestment, regulators are unlikely to push for companies to retract these deals, legal experts told TechNode. 

  • Zhu Bao, a Beijing-based corporate compliance lawyer, told TechNode that these fines should alert internet companies to brace for a tightening regulatory environment. But it would be complicated for regulators to force a retract because some of the deals are compliant with existing regulations. 
  • “I find some of the fines puzzling, such as Alibaba’s for acquiring 50% equity of Guangzhou Evergrande Football Club in 2014. We didn’t think these kinds of deals would require declaring since the two companies are in vastly different fields,” Zhu added. 
  • Deng Jingyu, a Shanghai-based company and finance lawyer from Win Zone Law Firm, agreed. She said regulators rarely nullify closed deals. 

Context: The antitrust fines came within a week after the Chinese cyberspace watchdog launched a data security investigation on the ride-hailing giant Didi and several other Chinese internet companies listed overseas. 

  • While the number of deals fined is the largest yet, more companies were affected in a March ruling that fined 12 companies over 10 deals.  

READ MORE: How did Didi get in trouble with data regulators?

Qin Chen

Qin is the managing editor at TechNode. Previously, she was a reporter at Inkstone, a China-focused news site owned by the South China Morning Post. Before that, she worked in the United States for five...