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China tech

China readies wider antitrust law to cover internet companies

Platforms like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu grow increasingly dominant

Chinese internet groups face the prospect of strong antitrust regulation as they expand their roles in the digital economy.

BEIJING -- China's competition regulator looks to extend the country's antitrust law to internet businesses, as leading players like Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings expand their influence in the digital economy.

The draft legislation, announced Thursday by the State Administration for Market Regulation, would expand the definition of what constitutes a dominant position with potential to harm competition. Companies' ability to collect and process data has been added to the criteria, as well as the scale of their internet operations and first-mover advantage.

China has blocked most of the services provided by Google, Facebook and other foreign search and social media groups, while Amazon.com said last year it would leave the country's e-commerce market.

But in the absence of American tech groups, the Chinese internet has flourished.

"Domestic internet companies are having a greater effect on consumers' lives, so the authorities no doubt want to strengthen their control," said a research company executive who monitors China.

Beijing would be following moves by authorities in Japan, the European Union and elsewhere to rein in online platforms.

Besides Alibaba and Tencent, China has produced its own internet search leader, Baidu, as well as second-ranked e-commerce group JD.com. News app Jinri Toutiao, food delivery service Meituan Dianping, ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing and other online offerings also have achieved rapid growth.

The antitrust bill will be finalized by Jan. 31 after a public comment period. Other proposed changes include a framework for the government to review fair competition and a tenfold increase in the maximum fine for violations.

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