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China Probes Party Chief in Tech Hub Hangzhou, Home to Alibaba Group

Graft agency says Hangzhou’s top official is being investigated for serious violations of discipline and law and local party members are now facing scrutiny over business links in the city.


China's President Xi Jinping speaks at a news conference after the closing of G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province in Sept 2016. Photo: Damir Sagolj, Reuters.

 

(AF) China is investigating the top Communist Party official in the technology hub Hangzhou, the home to Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group, in the latest chill wind to blow across the nation’s reeling tech industry

Members of China’s ruling Communist Party in the city were also ordered to resolve any potential business-related conflicts of interest involving themselves or relatives, the country’s graft watchdog said on Monday. Alibaba shares plunged almost 4% in Hong Kong and the city’s Hang Seng Tech Index, a barometer of China’s big tech industry, fell more than 2%.

Hangzhou Party Secretary Zhou Jiangyong is under investigation for “serious violations of discipline and laws,” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said Saturday, without giving further details. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Zhou was under detention, and he wasn’t able to be reached for comment. The CCDI  said close to 25,000 current party cadres in leadership positions in the eastern city, as well as those who had retired within the last three years, were undertaking “self-examinations” to review any potential conflicts of interest.

China’s launched an unprecedented regulatory clampdown on its big technology companies, tightening control over their operations and reining in overseas listings as it worries that the troves of data they hold may fall into foreign hands. The crackdown has extended to ride-hailing giant Didi Global and even private tutoring companies. The Hang Seng Tech Index has plummeted 40% since its high for the year in February.

Capital of Zhejiang province and a two-hour drive southwest of Shanghai, Hangzhou is home to more than 10 million people as well as some of China’s top software and internet companies, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. The city is also the home base for Alibaba’s financial affiliate, Ant Group, whose record $37-billion initial public offering (IPO) was derailed last November by Chinese regulators, who wanted to rein in some of its operations and subject it to more rules and capital requirements.

‘False Rumours’

Late on Sunday, Ant Group issued a statement saying it had “strictly followed laws and regulations” in an “open and transparent” IPO process, and dismissing speculation online surrounding the IPO as “false rumours.” Ant did not specify what these rumours were.

Hangzhou is a city designated as part of a national test plan to bring “common prosperity” and published details on the plan last month, saying it would strive to reduce the wealth gap between urban and rural areas.

The 54-year-old Zhou is the most senior official in Zhejiang to be investigated in recent years, the state-run Global Times reported. It said Zhou started his career as a high-school teacher in the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang before taking up a political career. He became Party chief of Hangzhou in May 2018, and before that held similar positions in the cities of Zhoushan and Wenzhou. Being the youngest member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee, Zhou had always had a high-profile political career, the paper said.

The investigation into Zhou came two days after another official in the province came under a cloud, the Global Times reported. On Thursday, Ma Xiaohui, former Party secretary of Huzhou, “voluntarily surrendered” for suspected “serious violations of discipline and law.”

• Jim Pollard, Kevin Hamlin and Reuters

 

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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

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