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Tencent chief causes stir with repost of article on China’s economy

Tencent chief causes stir with repost of article on China's economy

Tencent Chairman and CEO Pony Ma Huateng attends the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai, China, September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Bonnie Ma, founder of tech giant Tencent Holdings, caused a stir on social media over the weekend by republishing an article on the Chinese economy, an unusual break of silence by the Chinese tech mogul on an increasingly sensitive topic site.

The article, which republished early Saturday, lamented that few people in China were willing to talk about the pressures facing the country’s economy and businesses.

Screenshots of Ma’s post on his WeChat “Moments” feed circulated on the Twitter-like website Weibo, as searches for his Chinese name, Ma Huateng, spiked. Several comments took the post back as an expression of frustration.

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Tencent did not respond to a request for comment.

Two people familiar with the Moments feed on WeChat told Reuters that the post is original. The feed will only be visible to contacts approved by Ma. WeChat is owned by Tencent (0700.HK).

Ma’s only comment on the article highlighted a line in which its author, Zhang Minjiang, said young social media users were “anti-capitalist” and espoused double standards.

The article said, “The way some netizens care about the economy is: Companies can go bankrupt, but they can’t fire employees; businesses can go bankrupt, but they can’t have overtime.” “Of course if they order delivery and you are ten minutes late, they will curse and scold the delivery rider more severely than anyone else.”

“The description in this paragraph is very clear,” Ma commented.

In the past two years, founders of Chinese tech companies have avoided posting on social media or making comments that could be seen as critical of government policy, reflecting a broader trend of tightening censorship and self-censorship in China.

Meanwhile, Beijing has become particularly sensitive to suggestions that its tough policies to contain the COVID-19 outbreak may be excessive given their damage to the economy.

“Ma Huateng finally talked about how the economy is developing! Really, everyone is so worried about the economy but there’s nothing we can do about it!” Said one Weibo user. “Now the whole community has fallen into collective silence.”

Sensitivities have also been heightened ahead of a meeting of the ruling Communist Party late this year, when President Xi Jinping is widely expected to secure an unprecedented third term of leadership.

Some tech tycoons have been pressured in the past to express criticism or post comments that have been interpreted as critical, amid a nearly two-year regulatory crackdown on most of the industry’s biggest names.

In late 2020, Alibaba founder Jack Ma gave a speech criticizing China’s financial regulators. This was followed by a series of events that led to the suspension of the massive IPO of Ant Group.

Shares in Meituan (3690.HK) tumbled last year after founder Wang Xing posted an old poem on social media platform Fanfou that was seen by some on social media as critical of the government and Xi.

Tencent has come under pressure from both investors, who want it to make a profit, and local media about layoffs. Last week, the company reported a halving of its quarterly profit from a year ago and stagnating revenue. Read more

Tencent investors don’t seem to be concerned about Ma’s post. Its shares fell 1.7 percent on Monday, compared with 1.4 percent in the Hang Seng Index.

(dollar = 6.6665 Chinese yuan)

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(Additional reporting by Sophie Yue Wingzhi Yang in Beijing, Josh Yi in Hong Kong and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Tony Munro and Edmund Kellman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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