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China signals easing of tech squeeze in bid to lift economy

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BEIJING: China signaled an easing of its crackdown on the once-freewheeling tech sector on Friday as President Xi Jinping seeks to bolster the economy in the face of growth-sapping COVID-19 lockdowns, sending shares in online heavyweights surging.

China’s powerful Politburo, in a meeting chaired by Xi, said it will step up policy support for the world’s second-largest economy, including its so-called “platform economy”, fueling investor hopes that the worst may be over for an unprecedented, multi-pronged crackdown that began in late 2020.

The optimism was also powered by reports that China’s top leaders will hold a symposium early next month with a number of internet companies, expected to be chaired by Xi, according to two people familiar with the matter. Food delivery giant Meituan (3690.HK) was among those invited, one source said.

The sources declined to be named citing confidentiality constraints.

The South China Morning Post, which first reported on the upcoming meeting, said tech giants Alibaba Group Holding (9988.HK), Tencent Holdings (0700.HK) and TikTok owner ByteDance were also invited.

Authorities are seeking to reassure the corporate executives about the current regulatory environment and encourage them to continue to develop their business, one source told Reuters.

The Hang Seng Tech index (.HSTECH) rose 10% for its best day since Vice Premier Liu He promised policy support six weeks ago. E-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com (9618.HK) rose 16%, as did Meituan, while Tencent rose 11%.

Depository receipts of Alibaba, JD.com, Meituan and Tencent trading in U.S. markets were up 7.8%, 7.5%, 13.4% and 4.8% respectively on Friday afternoon.

“The Chinese government, much like the U.S. and other governments, has been trying to catch up in regulating a technology sector that has grown at an incredible rate over the past decade,” said Kevin Carter, CIO of EMQQ Global, which created the Emerging Market Internet & Ecommerce ETF (EMQQ.P), made up of around 50% China equity tech securities.

“This meeting may signal that the government feels they have caught up,” he said.

The market’s reaction signaled a belief that Beijing, which had taken steps to reign in what it saw as excessive profits at China’s largest internet companies, was backing off on the amount of pressure it was applying, said Jason Pride, chief investment officer of private wealth at Glenmede.

Beijing had sought to rein in a range of industries as part of a push to clamp down on violations of anti-monopoly regulations and data privacy rules, among others, as well as bridge a widening wealth gap that threatened the legitimacy of Communist Party rule under a “common prosperity” drive.

But the crackdowns on e-commerce, private education and the property sector have exacted an economic toll and, since the beginning of the year, China has loosened some of the measures to help an economy wrestling with strict COVID-19 lockdowns.

Separately on Friday, sources said Chinese and U.S. regulators were discussing operational details of an audit deal that Beijing hopes to sign this year, the latest move to try to keep Chinese companies from being kicked off U.S. exchanges.

The U.S. securities regulator’s move to identify Chinese firms likely to be delisted from New York for not meeting auditing requirements has pushed more fund managers to exit their holdings and dimmed the prospect for new listings.

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