China's ongoing antitrust efforts in the digital economy will boost competition and spur innovation, instead of tripping up tech giants, said a leading antitrust law expert.
"Strengthening anti-monopoly supervision is not a campaign that targets a number of internet giants to restrict their development," said Shi Jianzhong, vice-president of the China University of Political Science and Law and a member of the expert advisory group of the State Council's anti-monopoly commission.
Instead, the antitrust efforts aim to promote the healthy development of platform enterprises and the digital economy, and tech giants' innovations that do not erode fair competition will continue to be encouraged, Shi recently told China Daily.
Authorities have vowed during the Central Economic Work Conference to intensify anti-monopoly supervision and prevent disorderly capital expansion, while supporting platform enterprises to pursue innovative development and enhance international competitiveness.
It was decided at the conference that China will improve laws and regulations with regard to identifying monopolistic practices of internet platform companies, management of data collection and use, and the protection of consumer rights.
Anti-monopoly measures will help level the playing field for different market players, boost competition and motivate innovation, all of which is conducive to the healthy development of the digital economy, Shi said.
After years of development, the digital economy has grown from a nascent industry into a key engine of high-quality development, but side effects have clearly also emerged, especially industry leaders' abuse of their market dominance, he said.
For instance, the practice of forcing suppliers to choose only one e-commerce platform as their exclusive distribution channel has dampened competition among platforms and suppliers and will ultimately hurt consumers' interests, Shi said.
Alibaba is alleged to have engaged in this practice and has been investigated by the State Administration for Market Regulation, the administration said in December.
It is therefore necessary to shift the regulatory mindset over the digital economy from research and observation to a more proactive position and stem monopolistic behaviors, Shi said, adding that this transition is also taking place in the United States and Europe.
Coordinated steps should be taken across different authorities to achieve regular supervision over the digital economy, given its cross-industry nature, he said.
Yet regulators should remain prudent when deciding whether to carry out antitrust punishments, to preserve the development room for platform companies and encourage them to continue innovating new business forms that benefit consumers, Shi said.
"What should be cracked down on are platform companies' practices that have impaired fair competition, not the companies themselves," Shi said.
His words came amid regulators' intensifying supervision over platform enterprises' monopolistic behaviors. On the heels of the Alibaba investigation, the State Administration for Market Regulation said in January that it has started a probe into e-commerce platform Vipshop's alleged unfair competitive behavior.
The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission listed strengthening the regulation over internet platforms' financial activities and firmly curbing monopolistic practices as one of its key tasks for this year at its annual work conference on Tuesday.