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Tencent Holdings chairman and chief executive Pony Ma Huateng’s recent WeChat post has gone viral, as concerns grow about China’s slowing economy. Photo: Reuters

Tencent CEO Pony Ma sparks fresh online discussion about China’s economic pain after sharing viral social media article

  • Pony Ma endorsed to his WeChat contacts an online essay that paints a bleak picture of China’s economy under Beijing’s dynamic zero-Covid-19 policy
  • That social media post reflected an uncharacteristic step for the Tencent founder, who has kept a low profile in recent years
Tencent Holdings founder, chairman and chief executive Pony Ma Huateng has sparked fresh online discussion about economic difficulties under Beijing’s dynamic zero-Covid-19 policy, following his endorsement on Saturday of a viral article that touched on the Chinese technology industry’s current struggles.
The 50-year-old billionaire, who has kept a low profile in recent years, shared the online article entitled “Nobody cares about the economy except for Hu Xijin” to his contacts on WeChat, Tencent’s ubiquitous and multipurpose social media app.
The essay written by independent online commentator Zhang Mingyang, who first published it via the WeChat account called Dujiaojing Workshop, paints a bleak economic picture of China amid the government’s implementation of strict Covid-19 control measures. Hu, the outspoken former editor-in-chief of nationalist tabloid Global Times, was referenced because of his appeal for concern about the economic impact of the government’s zero-Covid-19 strategy.

Ma described as “truly vivid” a paragraph from the article that lambasts those who doubt the value of services provided by China’s tech sector during these trying times.

Hu Xijin, the outspoken former editor-in-chief of nationalist tabloid Global Times. Photo: Weibo

“Some netizens believe enterprises can go bankrupt, but can’t lay off people, and businesses can go bust, but can’t demand overtime,” the article said. “They relate China’s economy solely to chips and so-called hardcore tech, but disregard food, clothing, transport and housing [which they see] as too vulgar or insignificant [to be concerned about].”

“[But] these people will not shy from cursing couriers if their food delivery is late for 10 minutes,” according to the paragraph cited by Ma.

While Ma’s original post could only be viewed by his WeChat contacts, a screenshot of his comment has become widely circulated on the same platform. A source with access to Ma’s WeChat Moments – a function that is similar to a Facebook or Twitter feed – confirmed the authenticity of Ma’s comment.

Tencent did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Monday.

The article that Ma endorsed, which carefully avoided any direct attack on the government, remained uncensored on China’s internet as of Monday.

Tencent’s Pony Ma pledges to serve society despite slower growth

The original article had become so popular on Chinese social media that Hu himself published a new article on Saturday to play down his role in growing discussions online about the country’s economy.

Ma’s social media endorsement reflected an uncharacteristic step for the Tencent leader amid regulatory uncertainty, a slowing economy and lingering Covid-19-related concerns on the mainland.

Ma, who founded China’s most valuable technology company in 1998, has made no major public appearances since early last year, when he showed up at the country’s annual parliamentary gathering in Beijing.

“The reason why Ma’s post has become so popular is because he spoke about what countless private companies and entrepreneurs are thinking,” a user named Peng Tinglin wrote on Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

“I would like to call on society to show they care about these private companies, which support hundreds of millions of ordinary families,” said Peng, who serves as chief executive of a tech firm in southwestern Sichuan province, according to verified information on his Weibo account. “We should protect the workers, as well as the business operators.”

Tencent’s depressed quarterly results show China’s tech sector growth set to recede

While Ma’s post was sent to only his WeChat friends, it was a sign that the “voiceless has decided to speak out”, according to a WeChat post by Zhang Ming, a professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

Shenzhen-based Tencent has been one of the hardest-hit internet companies during China’s series of regulatory crackdowns. Tencent’s share price in Hong Kong has more than halved since early 2021 and, for the first time since it went public in 2004, the company reported nearly zero revenue growth in the first quarter this year.
Big Tech companies like Tencent have been blamed by official media outlets for various social problems. Video gaming, for example, was slammed last year by state media as “spiritual opium” that harms the country’s teenagers, while singling out Tencent as a source of the problem.
Other Big Tech bosses have also lowered their public profiles amid regulators’ scrutiny. These include Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma, Meituan chief executive Wang Xing, Pinduoduo’s Colin Huang Zheng and ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming.

Will China’s Big Tech crackdown ease? Top advisory body meeting offers hope

China is battling its worst Covid-19 outbreak in more than two years, with the stringent coronavirus control measures imposed on both Shanghai and Beijing proving to be particularly damaging. While the country’s economy grew by 4.8 per cent in the first quarter, lockdowns are taking an increasing toll on business activities.
Major indicators measuring the state of the world’s second-largest economy fell short of expectations in official data released last week, with industrial production, retail sales, fixed-asset investment and the surveyed jobless rate falling to their weakest levels in more than two years.
Tencent is said to be deepening its job cuts among various business including cloud computing and video content, involving 100 people from its sports channels, according to local media and sources interviewed by the South China Morning Post. Ma said in an earnings call with analysts on Wednesday that the company would adjust certain noncore businesses after reporting stagnant revenue growth in the first quarter.