Chinese official media has played down the political significance of Beijing’s antitrust probe into e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding and framed the move as a necessary technical step to ensure the healthy development of the industry. People’s Daily , the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published two opinion pieces in two days interpreting the investigation as a move to help, not harm, the industry – even as investors in Hong Kong and New York rushed to sell their Alibaba stocks due to concerns about hostility from Beijing. “For the platform economy, the strengthening of anti-monopoly supervision will not bring about a ‘winter’ of the industry, but rather a new starting point for better and healthier development,” the newspaper said in its second commentary on Friday. Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post . What is the controversial tactic that triggered Alibaba antitrust probe? The opinion pieces, which were widely republished by Chinese official media outlets and social media accounts and promoted by Chinese news portals, suggested that Beijing did not intend to hurt the platforms although it had decided to rein in their expansion. Hu Xijin, the chief editor of nationalist tabloid Global Times , also tweeted on Thursday that the probe “shouldn’t be viewed as a political action” and that market regulation was “inevitable”. China’s anti-monopoly probe of Alibaba shouldn’t be viewed as a political action. Market has long complained over the monopolistic practice of this e-commerce giant. Regulation is inevitable. I believe China can manage well this correction, making the future development healthier https://t.co/2RZzFIMaxl — Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) December 24, 2020 Beijing’s downplaying of the political significance of the antitrust probe comes as internet platforms like Alibaba play an increasingly important role in China’s economic growth and employment. As the country’s largest e-commerce platform, Alibaba had 881 million mobile monthly active users as of September and reported 155.1 billion yuan (US$22.8 billion) in revenue for the third quarter, a 30 per cent increase year-on-year. During this year’s Singles’ Day, the world’s largest online shopping festival which Alibaba started, the company broke previous records with 498 billion yuan in gross sales. Platforms have “made positive contributions towards satisfying consumer demands, forging new growth dynamics and promoting high-quality economic development in recent years”, the People’s Daily opinion piece on Friday noted. But while China has encouraged innovation and development in the internet sector over the past few years, it is now “adjusting priorities” to establish a fair business environment for small and medium-sized enterprises in the e-commerce, manufacturing, and service industries, said China Renaissance Securities’ head of macro and strategy research Bruce Pang. Beijing lectures e-commerce platforms in new antitrust warning to Big Tech “The [internet platform] leaders need not rely on anticompetitive measures to be the winner,” said Pang. “With regulators potentially reprimanding or banning internet industry practices … some platform-oriented tech companies may have to be more product-focused and content-based to generate organic growth.” China’s antitrust watchdog, the State Administration of Market Regulation, announced on Thursday that it was investigating Alibaba over alleged monopolistic business practices including the “ picking one from the two ” practice, which forces online merchants to choose only one platform as their exclusive distribution channel. After the announcement, Alibaba’s US-listed shares tumbled 13 per cent, its biggest one-day drop since its 2014 debut on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock slumped to the lowest level since July and was down 30 per cent on Thursday from an October peak. The Chinese tech giant’s stock also slid 8 per cent in Hong Kong to a five-month low on Thursday. Stock markets in both the US and Hong Kong are closed on Friday for Christmas. Although platforms rely on economies of scale and network effects to develop, People’s Daily said in the commentary on Friday that a monopolistic environment is neither the basis of their success nor their right. “Today’s large companies and platforms all started from small companies and websites … therefore, all parties expect that they will also leave opportunities for healthy competition with small companies and websites that enter the industry later.” Hu said in a WeChat post on Friday morning that “the investigation of Alibaba’s monopolistic behaviour is legal and moral”. “The purpose of this [investigation] is to regulate the order of the internet economy, and reading too much into it should not be encouraged,” he wrote.