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Nation strives to draw clear bottom line, set up red light for all firms, expert says
China's top market regulator fined companies including Alibaba Group, Baidu Inc and Tencent Holdings Ltd for violating the Anti-Monopoly Law, which industry experts said on Sunday is a broader part of normalized antitrust efforts following the recent setup of the anti-monopoly bureau.
Specifically, these companies failed to declare the concentration of business operators according to law. Concentration of business operators means that a business operator obtains control over another in the same business, which may lead to monopoly.
On Saturday, the State Administration for Market Regulation imposed a 500,000 yuan ($78,000) fine for each of 43 cases that violated the Anti-Monopoly Law. None of these deals, however, had the effect of eliminating or restricting competition, the market regulation authority said on its website.
"Through a series of anti-monopoly efforts recently, the country's antitrust law enforcement has become more systematic and normalized. The nation has striven to draw a clear bottom line and set up a red light for all companies," said Wang Jian, an expert at the advisory group of the Anti-Monopoly Commission of the State Council, China's Cabinet, and a professor of law at Zhejiang Sci-Tech University.
Of the 43 cases, 13 involved Tencent and its subsidiaries, including the tech company's acquisition of China Medonline Inc. Up to 12 cases were related to Alibaba and its subsidiaries, including its acquisition of the mapping company Amap and purchase of stakes in the food delivery company Ele.me.
"The review takes the form of prior supervision for business activities that have or may have the effect of eliminating or restricting competition. It is an effective way to avoid restricting of competition in the market," said Zhong Gang, executive director of the Competition Law Research Institute at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai.
"Asking companies to declare the concentration of business operators will help maintain a fair competition environment for all market entities, which ultimately will protect consumers' interests," he added.
The move also came as China launched an anti-monopoly bureau on Thursday that is located in the same building as the State Administration for Market Regulation in Beijing. Gan Lin, currently vice-minister of the market regulation authority, was appointed to head the bureau.
"Such new changes reflect that the country is enriching in-house capabilities for greater enforcement and autonomy regarding antitrust matters," said Liu Xu, a research fellow at Tsinghua University's National Strategy Institute.
"It is also part of China's broader efforts to align with antitrust law enforcement of the United States and Europe, both of which have a much larger antitrust workforce than that of China," Liu added.