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China e-commerce giant acquires Hong Kong's South China Morning Post

TAIPEI -- Chinese e-commerce titan Alibaba Group Holding is acquiring Hong Kong's South China Morning Post broadsheet newspaper, following the ongoing trend of tycoons with close ties to Beijing purchasing media outlets in the former British colony and Taiwan with the aim of influencing public opinion in the mainland's favor.

     In a statement on Friday, Alibaba Group said that it aims to combine its own digital strength with the editorial prowess of the 112-year-old SCMP, one of Asia's most influential English language publications, in order to provide "comprehensive and insightful" coverage of Hong Kong and China.

     "Our vision is to expand the SCMP's readership globally through digital distribution and easier access to content," said Joe Tsai, Alibaba's executive vice chairman. In a separate letter, Tsai pledged his group would ensure editorial independence of the SCMP, promising that the "day-to-day editorial decisions will be driven by editors in the newsroom, not in the corporate board room" and that the paper's reporting will be "objective, accurate and fair."

     "With proven expertise especially in mobile Internet, Alibaba is in an excellent position to leverage technology to create content more efficiently and reach a global audience," said Robin Hu, chief executive officer of the SCMP.

     The amount of the transaction was not disclosed.

     As well as the newspaper, Alibaba is acquiring other media assets of the SCMP Group, the Hong Kong-listed company which owns the publication, from Chinese-Malaysian magnate Robert Kuok. Those assets include the SCMP's various digital and mobile platforms, and a range of glossy magazine titles including the Hong Kong editions of Esquire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, The PEAK and Harper's Bazaar.

     Following the acquisition announcement, Alibaba Group Holdings opened its Friday morning trade in New York 1.8% lower at $82.84, compared with Thursday's close of $84.33. The trading of Hong Kong-listed SCMP Group has been halted since February 2013, due to its free public float dropping below the 25% minimum threshold.

     Alibaba's move coincides with a recent decision by Dan Mintz, a Hollywood producer with significant business interests in China, to acquire 100% of Taiwan's EBC TV network.

     Mintz's acquisition attempt, however, will need to be approved by Taiwanese authorities first. Taiwan officials have said that they will review Mintz's investment carefully and that they will not allow Chinese funds to buy into media outlets on the islands.

      A most notable incidence of pro-Beijing businessmen buying media companies to maintain smooth ties with the Chinese government came in 2008 when Taiwanese founder Tsai Eng-ming of the Want Want Group, a food conglomerate which generates most of its revenue from the mainland market, bought the China Times Group which owns a major daily and two TV networks on Taiwan. Tsai has been using these media to promote his support for Taiwan's unification with China. 

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