Pony Ma, the low-profile cofounder of Chinese web giant Tencent, said he is “excited and encouraged by” China’s latest pledge to back the private sector, including the government’s support for the internet industry, which until recently faced a multi-year crackdown aimed at reining in the market influence of its biggest titans.
Ma is the country’s third-richest person, with a net worth of $35.7 billion on Thursday, according to Forbes real-time billionaires list. He wrote the comments for state-owned broadcaster CCTV. The billionaire rarely expresses views publicly, but published the article one day after Beijing vowed to improve conditions for private businesses.
The mogul said the government’s latest statements have stabilized expectations for future development, especially at a time when some private companies have encountered rising challenges due to the pandemic as well as changing domestic and international conditions. He added that under guidance from the government, internet platform companies would work to boost consumption and explore new opportunities brought by technological advances in artificial intelligence.
“We have once again seen major opportunities from the coming industrial transformation, as we are now on the cusp of a new round of technology revolution,” wrote Ma.
The billionaire’s comments are notable given that Tencent itself was once at the center of intense regulatory scrutiny. Over the past few years, growth was all but wiped out after regulators dealt a heavy blow to the company’s bread-and-butter gaming business by suspending the approval of new games. Although the freeze was ended in 2022, Tencent’s advertising and payment units are taking a toll from the country’s weakening economic recovery. The company, together with fintech giant Ant Group, was fined more than $1 billion this month for violating various laws and regulations related to payment, consumer protection and anti-money laundering obligations.
But the fine has widely been viewed as drawing an end to a bruising crackdown on the tech sector, which started in late 2020 with the abrupt halt to Ant Group’s massive initial public offering. It has caused the country’s technology giants from Tencent to Alibaba to each lose hundreds of billions of dollars in market value, and prompted some analysts to call the sector “uninvestable.”
Now, with the economy in deep malaise, youth unemployment at record high and second-quarter growth below expectations, the government appears to be shifting its tone. Officials pledge to treat private companies the same as state-owned ones, and optimize the overall development environment so as to restore business confidence.