Meituan founder makes an appearance at Communist Party of China’s big centenary celebration amid antitrust probe

·3-min read

Wang Xing, founder, chairman and CEO of China’s biggest food delivery service Meituan, participated in the Communist Party of China’s 100th-anniversary celebration on Thursday, a sign that he and his company are back in Beijing’s good graces despite an ongoing antitrust probe.

Wang was seen in the audience during a live broadcast of the ceremony at Tiananmen Square, listening intently to the keynote address by party secretary Xi Jinping, the most powerful figure in China in recent decades.

The 42-year-old internet entrepreneur, whose company is under investigation for possible breaches of China’s antitrust laws, has kept a low profile after posting a thousand-year-old Chinese poem seen as a jab at the government.

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The poem, posted in May on Wang’s personal social media account on Fanfou, was written during the late Tang dynasty about the burning of books by China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang. It is usually interpreted as an anti-establishment clarion call.

Meituan's founder and chief executive Wang Xing (centre right, wearing white shirt with glasses) was seen in the live broadcast of the Communist Party's centenary celebration in Tiananmen Square on Thursday. Photo: CCTV
Meituan's founder and chief executive Wang Xing (centre right, wearing white shirt with glasses) was seen in the live broadcast of the Communist Party's centenary celebration in Tiananmen Square on Thursday. Photo: CCTV

After removing the post, Wang tried to explain that he meant to criticise the short-sightedness of his own industry, clarifying that he was not targeting the government.

After the gaffe, Meituan shares tumbled by as much as 9.8 per cent in Hong Kong, their biggest one-day percentage plunge in two months, before clawing back some of the losses for a 7.1 per cent decline, wiping out US$16 billion in market value.

China’s antitrust investigations into internet and tech

It is not known how many other Chinese Big Tech leaders attended the grand ceremony, but Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun was invited and participated in the ceremony in Tiananmen Square on Thursday morning, according to a post to his personal Weibo account.

Real estate tycoon Hui Ka Yan, founder of China Evergrande Group, who just skirted his latest crisis, was also seen at the event, local media reported.

Meituan did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

In a speech to employees a year before Meituan’s listing in Hong Kong, Wang thanked the Communist Party for the “great times” that he said had contributed to his success.

In early June, Meituan said Wang donated a US$2.3 billion stake, about a tenth of his total shareholding in the company, to his own philanthropic foundation that promotes education and scientific research, seen as a response to Beijing’s increased pressure on Big Tech to serve social development and the national agenda.

Beijing-based Meituan is facing potential fines of up to US$700 million after it came under scrutiny by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) for allegedly forcing merchants to sell exclusively on its platform. The regulator announced its investigation into Meituan on April 26 after receiving complaints from the public.

For the Communist Party centenary, some of the country's most popular apps celebrated with the opening images: from left to right: food delivery app Meituan, ride-hailing platform Didi and online marketplace JD.com. Photo: SCMP Pictures
For the Communist Party centenary, some of the country's most popular apps celebrated with the opening images: from left to right: food delivery app Meituan, ride-hailing platform Didi and online marketplace JD.com. Photo: SCMP Pictures

The investigation followed similar probes into South China Morning Post parent company Alibaba Group Holding, China’s dominant social media network operator Tencent Holdings and dozens of other Chinese technology companies and their units, as regulators clamped down on the sector’s winner-takes-all corporate behaviour after decades of giving them free rein.

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