For China’s economic elite, staying out of politics is no longer an option


Internet infrastructure operators like Didi now have to prove their political and legal legitimacy to the government, wrote Ma Changbo, an online media start-up founder, on his social media account at WeChat.

“This is the second half of the US-China decoupling,” he wrote. “The model of playing on both sides of the fence is coming to an end on the capital market.”

Didi, Ms. Liu, and Mr. Liu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China’s Internet companies have benefited from the best of both worlds since the 1990s. Many received foreign venture capital – Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, was funded by Yahoo and SoftBank, while Tencent, another internet titan, was backed by South Africa’s Naspers. They also copied their business models from Silicon Valley companies.

Chinese companies gained further advantages when Beijing locked almost all major American Internet companies out of their home market and gave their domestic players plenty of room to grow. Many Chinese Internet companies later went public in New York, where investors have a greater appetite for innovative and risky startups than in Shanghai or Hong Kong. So far this year, more than 35 Chinese companies have gone public in the US.

Now Didi’s approach is changing the calculations of many in China’s technology industry. One entrepreneur who targeted a listing in New York for her enterprise software start-up said it would be harder to go public with a high rating in Hong Kong because of what her company does – software as a service – The idea is relatively new in China.

A venture capitalist in Beijing added that China’s privacy requirements make it unlikely that artificial intelligence and software as a service startups would consider going public in New York. Few people were willing to come on record for fear of reprisals from Beijing.

At the same time, the United States has become more hostile to Chinese tech companies and investors. As Washington stepped up its scrutiny of sensitive technology deals, it has become nearly impossible for Chinese venture firms to invest in Silicon Valley startups, several investors said.

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