China to Expand Anti-Monopoly Bureau as Crackdown Widens, Sources Say

  • SAMR plans to more than double antitrust staff to 100 people
  • Alibaba, Meituan were targeted during 1-year-old crackdown

China’s competition watchdog is planning to hire more people in its Beijing head office and creating departments to better oversee deals and probes, keeping up the pressure after a yearlong crackdown on monopolies.

The State Administration for Market Regulation will boost staffing at its anti-monopoly bureau, which will be split into three separate divisions focusing on antitrust investigations, market competition and mergers oversight, according to people with knowledge of the matter, asking not to be identified as the information hasn’t been made public. It’s planning to increase the number of antitrust officials from over 40 currently to 100, before reaching 150 within five years, two of the people said.

The preliminary plans, which were communicated internally before China’s week-long national day holiday, are expected to be finalized by the end of October. The regulator didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Beijing has been increasing antitrust oversight over China’s sprawling private sector, especially in the digital realm following a decade of unfettered growth. The moves signal the SAMR, which has extracted billions in fines from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Meituan for market abuse, is moving into a new phase of enforcing a plethora of regulations that now cover every corner of the world’s largest internet sector from food delivery to online shopping and social media.

President Xi Jinping has called on officials to strengthen antitrust work to ensure fair competition, part of his broader vision of achieving “common prosperity” and leveling the inequalities that have soared in recent decades.

Reining in tech companies has been seen as a crucial element of those efforts, given the inordinate power and insight accumulated by the likes of Alibaba and top rival Tencent Holdings Ltd. A central bank adviser last month also decried the “winner takes all” dynamic among internet platforms for increasing inequality and slowing economic growth.

SAMR deputy director Gan Lin is being considered to lead the administration, while Wu Zhenguo, who currently heads the anti-monopoly division, will become responsible for the new investigation bureau, one of the people said.

Over the past 11 months, the SAMR has managed to enact new antitrust laws within a span of four months, levied fines on tech giants for years-old deals as well as blocked proposed mergers. The regulator was formally established three years ago to take over responsibility for market competition issues from various ministries. While it’s best known for its role in the tech crackdown, its mandate also includes food safety and advertising standards as well as oversight over business registration.

Authors: Pei Li, Coco Liu, Bloomberg

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