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Alibaba's Jack Ma Sees Benefits in China's Internet Policies

  • Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent emerged under Chinese regulations: Ma
  • Billionaire says regulation needed for Internet's future

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Jack Ma stressed the need to regulate the Internet and offered China’s thriving domestic online industry as proof the country wasn’t overly rigid in policing the Web.

The emergence of world-class players like Baidu Inc., Alibaba and Tencent Holdings Ltd. -- the “BAT” triumvirate -- shows innovation wasn’t getting stifled, the billionaire chairman of the country’s largest Internet company said Friday. His remarks come two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping said strict control of websites was necessary to maintain order.

China employs one of the world’s most exhaustive Internet censorship regimes to suppress dissent and information deemed dangerous by the ruling Communist Party. Social-media postings can be deleted and search terms blocked while local Web users can’t access foreign websites including those of Facebook and Google.

“Many people from overseas told me that China might be too tight on Internet control,” Ma told China’s second World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. “But I think, no matter what, under regulation the country produced 700 million Internet users, BAT, and numerous innovations, and there’s still a lot for us to learn and rethink.”

Control Issues

The government has increased restrictions since Xi took power three years ago, passing a security law establishing “cybersovereignty,” making the resending of rumors over the Internet a crime and advancing regulations that would let companies in key sectors only use technology deemed “safe and controllable.”

Ma’s remarks come days after the announcement that Alibaba was buying Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, igniting a public debate about whether the city’s press was increasingly subject to Chinese influences. Earlier this year, Xi targeted Internet elites such as Ma for outreach by the Communist Party and sought their help to “purify the Internet.”

“It’ll be a challenge to humankind if we do not regulate the future development of the Internet systematically,” Ma said.

To illustrate the need for regulation, the billionaire referred to Alibaba’s own years-long struggle against fake goods. U.S. regulators and major brands have accused the company of not doing enough to curb the proliferation of knock-offs on its websites, though Alibaba says it is doing all it can.

“At Alibaba, I used to be against regulation,” Ma said. “But today we have fake products and frauds, and people are saying you don’t have enough regulations. So we still need to regulate.”

— With assistance by Keith Zhai

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