Xi Tightens His Grip, and China’s Tech Giants Feel the Squeeze

For China’s tech giants, working with Beijing has become more important for another reason: Mr. Xi has tightened China’s controls on the internet, and moved with remarkable force against companies that step out of line.

Sina Weibo, a service that resembles Twitter, lost some of its appeal as a raucous forum amid a coordinated crackdown early in Mr. Xi’s tenure on what regulators called rumor-mongering. Last month, regulators clamped down on Bytedance, one of China’s most successful start-ups, shutting down its humor app and ordering it to clean up “vulgar” content on several of its other apps.

As a result, tech potentates are trying harder than ever to keep the leadership happy.

Xi Tightens His Grip, and China’s Tech Giants Feel the Squeeze
Xi Tightens His Grip, and China’s Tech Giants Feel the Squeeze

On the third floor of a gleaming Tencent high-rise in Shenzhen, the Communist Party makes its presence within the company literal.

A chart on the wall shows how many employees are party members (more than 8,000 this year). Another display lists the monthly schedule for employees’ party education. (This month’s offering: training sessions on “New Era, New Thought, New Journey.”)

Tencent’s mascot, a jaunty winking penguin, appears throughout with a hammer and sickle on its chest.

Growing numbers of tech industry leaders have also joined the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, and the People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory group.

In December, Jack Ma, Alibaba’s executive chairman, announced that the company had started a $1.5 billion poverty relief fund. At a news conference before this year’s legislative session, Pony Ma, Tencent’s chief executive and a returning member of the congress, offered suggestions for improving schools and health care.

“The general secretary’s remarks were very sophisticated and contained a lot of information,” Pony Ma said after discussing innovation with Mr. Xi, according to state media, using one of Mr. Xi’s official titles. “I filled a full six pages with notes.”

Mr. Ma continued: “This is a new opportunity for the rapid development of our innovative companies.”

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