China’s entrepreneur class is grappling with the worst economic slump in decades as the government’s zero Covid policy has shut down cities and kept would-be customers at home. Yet they can’t seem to agree on how loudly they should complain — or even whether they should at all.
A tech entrepreneur wrote in a big group chat in May that many members were too critical. “What people here do every day is criticizing the government and the system,” she wrote. “I can’t see any entrepreneurship in this.”
A top venture capitalist told his nearly nine million social media followers that as much as everyone had suffered from the pandemic, they should try to stay away from negative news and information.
zero Covid policy, which has put hundreds of millions of people under some kind of lockdowns in the past few months, costing jobs and revenues. He’s saying what many others are whispering in private but fear to say in public.
“The questions we should ask ourselves are,” he wrote in an article that was censored within an hour of posting but shared widely in other formats, “what caused such widespread negative sentiment across the society? Who should be responsible for this? And how can we change it?”
He said the lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities made it clear that wealth and social status meant little to a government determined to pursue its zero Covid policy. “We’re all nobodies who could be sent to the quarantine camps, and our homes could be broken into,” he wrote. “If we still choose to adapt to and put up with this, all of us will face the same destiny: trapped.”
staying out of politics is no longer an option for China’s business leaders. But some of his peers are reluctant, given the potential penalties.
steered away from the market economy and cracked down on some industries. It demonized entrepreneurs and went after some of the most prominent of them. Then when the mild, albeit contagious, Omicron variant of the coronavirus emerged in China this year, the government meddled with free enterprise as it hadn’t in decades.
The lockdowns and restrictions have done so much damage to the economy that Premier Li Keqiang summoned about 100,000 cadres to an emergency meeting in late May. He called the situation “severe” and “urgent,” citing sharp drops in employment, industrial production, electricity consumption and freight traffic.
Many business leaders believe that it will be hard to reverse the damage if the government doesn’t stop the zero Covid policy. Yet they feel that there’s nothing they can do to make Beijing change course.
The chairman of a big internet company told me that with all the pandemic restrictions, he and others were operating as if dancing with shackles on while expecting the sword of a lockdown to strike at any moment. With a big public company to run, he said, it would be too risky to be vocal. He hoped the economists could be more outspoken.
The chairman of a publicly listed conglomerate with many consumer-facing businesses said he had to shut down a few of his companies and let people go as revenues dropped off a cliff. He’s not a Christian, he said, but he has been praying to God every day to help him get through this tough period.
articles that compared the pros and cons of different pandemic policies. Then, in mid-May, his social media Weibo account was suspended.
Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, largely disappeared from public view after he criticized banking regulators in late 2019. The regulators quashed the initial public offering of Ant Group, the tech and financial company controlled by Mr. Ma, and fined Alibaba a record $2.8 billion last year.
Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate developer, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of committing graft, taking bribes, misusing public funds and abusing his power. His real crime, his supporters say, was criticizing Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020.
Mr. Zhou, 49, is known as a maverick in Chinese business circles. He founded his first business in stereo systems with his brother in the mid-1990s when he was still in college. In 2010, he started Yongche, one of the first ride-hailing companies.
Unlike most Chinese bosses, he didn’t demand that his employees work overtime, and he didn’t like liquor-filled business meals. He turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and refused to participate in subsidy wars because doing so didn’t make economic sense. He ended up losing out to his more aggressive competitor Didi.
He later wrote a best seller about his failure and became a partner at a venture capital firm in Beijing. In April, he was named chairman of the ride-sharing company Caocao, a subsidiary of auto manufacturing giant Geely Auto Group.
A Chinese citizen with his family in Canada, Mr. Zhou said in an interview that in the past many wealthy Chinese people like him would move their families and some of their assets abroad but work in China because there were more opportunities.
Now, some of the top talent are trying to move their businesses out of the country, too. It doesn’t bode well for China’s future, he said.
“Entrepreneurs have good survivor’s instinct,” he said. “Now they’re forced to look beyond China.” He coined a term — “passive globalization” — based on his discussions with other entrepreneurs. “Many of us are starting to take such actions,” he said.
The prospect depressed him. China used to be the best market in the world: big, vibrant, full of ambitious entrepreneurs and hungry workers, he said, but the senseless and destructive zero Covid policy and the business crackdowns have forced many of them to think twice.
“Even if your company is a so-called giant, we’re all nobodies in front of the bigger force,” he said. “A whiff of wind could crush us.”
All the business leaders I spoke to said they were reluctant to make long-term investment in China and fearful that they and their companies could become the next victim of the government’s iron fist. They’re focusing on their international operations if they have them or seeking opportunities abroad.
Mr. Zhou left for Vancouver, British Columbia, in a hurry in late April when Beijing was locking down many neighborhoods. Then he wrote the article, urging his peers to try to speak up and change their powerless status.
He said he understood the fear and the pressure they faced. “Honestly speaking, I’m scared, too.” But he would probably regret it more if he did nothing. “Our country can’t go on like this,” he said. “We can’t allow it to deteriorate like this.”
In recent years, a few of Mr. Zhou’s articles and social media accounts have been deleted. His outspokenness has caused uneasiness among his friends, he said. Some have told him to shut up because it didn’t change anything and was creating unnecessary risks for himself, his family, his companies and the stakeholders in his businesses.
But Mr. Zhou can’t help himself. He’s worried that China could become more like it was under Mao: impoverished and repressive. His generation of entrepreneurs owes much of their success to China’s reform and opening up policies, he said. They have the responsibilities to initiate change instead of waiting for a free ride.
Maybe they can start by speaking up, even if just a little bit.
“Any change starts with disagreement and disobedience,” he said.
A view of part of online retailer Lazada’s warehouse in Depok, south of Jakarta, Indonesia March 26, 2018. Picture taken March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside/File Photo
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BANGKOK, May 7 (Reuters) – Thailand on Saturday warned against the creation of online content that risked insulting the country’s monarchy, after a video by a social media influencer promoting e-commerce platform Lazada incensed royalists, who said it was mocking the palace.
Thai law prescribes punishments of up to 15 years in jail for each offence if found guilty of defaming, insulting or threatening King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his closest family.
The video, which has since been taken down, was promoting Lazada’s May 5 sale and featured a woman dressed in a traditional Thai costume sitting in a wheelchair and playing the role of an influencer’s mother.
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Royalists complained the woman in the wheelchair was a veiled reference to a royal family member. The video did not use the language used by the royal family, nor mention any of its members.
In videos posted on Facebook, the influencer, Aniwat “Nara” Prathumthin, said the clip was a parody of a famous Thai soap opera and told critics the perceived royal insult was “all in your imagination”.
Lazada, the Southeast Asian arm of Alibaba Group Holding (9988.HK), in a statement apologised for the “emotional damage” the video had caused and said it should have been more careful.
Government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said such content risked damaging the reputation of brands.
“Let us warn marketers, influencers and content creators to be careful about presenting content or promotions that reference appearances or individuals of the institution that all Thais worship and love,” Thanakorn said in a statement.
“This is inappropriate, and will not only upset every Thai in the country, but also destroy the image and reputation of the brand. It could also be against the law.”
The incident follows an April Fool’s prank tweeted by a staff member at budget airline Thai Vietjet Air, an offshoot of Vietnam’s Vietjet Aviation JSC (VJC.HM), about a new route to Munich that stirred anger among royalists, who said it was a hidden joke about the Thai king spending time in Germany. The airline apologised. read more
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Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Martin Petty and David Holmes
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For the past decade, SoftBank and its founder, Masayoshi Son, grabbed headlines mainly for the Japanese conglomerate’s eye-popping investments, becoming a fixture in the American technology scene by spending freely on start-ups and fundamentally reshaping how such companies had been funded.
There was the world’s largest tech investment fund. The billions of dollars pumped into WeWork, the co-working giant. And Mr. Son’s splashy purchase of one of Silicon Valley’s priciest homes.
Now, the bad news is piling up.
This week, SoftBank’s planned $40 billion sale of Arm, a chip designer, to Nvidia, the Silicon Valley chip maker, fell apart because of regulatory setbacks. Shares in a handful of big tech companies that SoftBank owns stakes in, from the Chinese internet giant Alibaba to DoorDash, the food delivery service, have plunged in recent months amid a wider sell-off in high-growth tech stocks. And one of Mr. Son’s key deputies, Marcelo Claure, left the firm in January after a bitter pay dispute — the latest senior executive to depart the firm in the past year.
The slump in SoftBank’s fortunes was reflected in its latest earnings report. The firm said that its quarterly earnings fell 97 percent from a year ago, although it managed to eke out a small profit of $251 million during the three months that ended on Dec. 31. SoftBank’s shares, which trade publicly in Tokyo, stayed relatively flat this week, although they are already down by more than half in the past 12 months, as investors grow increasingly wary of SoftBank’s big bets that haven’t paid off.
he purchased an estate in Woodside, Calif., for $117 million — one of Silicon Valley’s most expensive homes. He then bought a majority stake in the mobile carrier Sprint in 2013 for roughly $22 billion, installing Mr. Claure as chief executive the next year. Sprint later merged with T-Mobile.
that country’s crackdown on its tech giants. SoftBank owns stakes in both companies, which trade on U.S. exchanges although Didi plans to move its listing to Hong Kong. While SoftBank invested far below the initial public offering price of DoorDash, the online food ordering company — one of the best performing stocks in 2021 — is now trading around its I.P.O. price.
The share price of SoftBank’s biggest holding, Alibaba, has dropped by about 60 percent from its October 2020 high. SoftBank put more than $10 billion into WeWork, which went public last year and is now trading at less than $6 billion. And after the Arm deal with Nvidia collapsed, SoftBank plans to take the chip design company public instead.
“Even if they’re going through this pain at the moment, they’re still actually in the black,” Mr. Ferragu said of the firm’s latest results.
SoftBank has seen its share of internal turmoil, too. In recent months, at least four senior investors have left or announced plans to leave.
Last month, SoftBank also lost Mr. Claure, one of its most high-profile executives, following an acrimonious compensation battle. Mr. Claure, once a key deputy and close confidante of Mr. Son’s, had argued that his boss had promised to pay him $2 billion over several years for his current and future work.
Twitter post: “People don’t leave their jobs or their companies. They leave their bosses. Treat the people who work for you right.”
Move comes as Beijing cracks down on technology firms
JD.com shares plunge as much as 11.2%, Tencent up 4%
Tencent has no plans to sell stakes in other firms-source
BEIJING/HONG KONG, Dec 23 (Reuters) – Chinese gaming and social media company Tencent (0700.HK) will pay out a $16.4 billion dividend by distributing most of its JD.com (9618.HK) stake, weakening its ties to the e-commerce firm and raising questions about its plans for other holdings.
The move comes as Beijing leads a broad regulatory crackdown on technology firms, taking aim at their overseas growth ambitions and domestic concentration of market power.
Tencent said on Thursday it will transfer HK$127.69 billion ($16.37 billion) worth of its JD.com stake to shareholders, slashing its holding in China’s second-biggest e-commerce company to 2.3% from around 17% now and losing its spot as JD.com’s biggest shareholder to Walmart (WMT.N).
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The owner of WeChat, which first invested in JD.com in 2014, said it was the right time for the divestment, given the e-commerce firm had reached a stage where it can self-finance its growth.
Chinese regulators have this year blocked Tencent’s proposed $5.3 billion merger of the country’s top two videogame streaming sites, ordered it to end exclusive music copyright agreements and found WeChat illegally transferred user data.
The company is one of a handful of technology giants that dominate China’s internet space and which have historically prevented rivals’ links and services from being shared on their platforms.
“This seems to be a continuation of the concept of bringing down the walled gardens and increasing competition among the tech giants by weakening partnerships, exclusivity and other arrangements which weaken competitive pressures,” Mio Kato, a LightStream Research analyst who publishes on Smartkarma said of the JD.com stake transfer.
“It could have implications for things like the payments market where Tencent’s relationships with Pinduoduo and JD have helped it maintain some competitiveness with Alipay,” he said.
JD.com shares plunged 11.2% at one point in Hong Kong trade on Thursday, the biggest daily percentage decline since its debut in the city in June 2020, before closing with a 7.0.% decline. Shares of Tencent, Asia’s most valuable listed company, rose 4.2%.
The companies said they would continue to have a business relationship, including an ongoing strategic partnership agreement, though Tencent Executive Director and President Martin Lau will step down from JD.com’s board immediately.
Eligible Tencent shareholders will be entitled to one share of JD.com for every 21 shares they hold.
A Tencent logo is seen in Beijing, China September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
The JD.com stake is part of Tencent’s portfolio of listed investments valued at $185 billion as of Sept. 30, including stakes in e-commerce company Pinduoduo (PDD.O), food delivery firm Meituan (3690.HK), video platform Kuaishou (1024.HK), automaker Tesla (TSLA.O) and streaming service Spotify (SPOT.N).
Alex Au, managing director at Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager Alphalex Capital Management, said the JD.com sale made both business and political sense.
“There might be other divestments on their way as Tencent heeds the antitrust call while shareholders ask to own those interests in minority stakes themselves,” he said.
A person with knowledge of the matter told Reuters Tencent has no plans to exit its other investments. When asked about Pinduoduo and Meituan, the person said they are not as well-developed as JD.com.
The Chinese internet giant has also invested in overseas companies such as Tesla (TSLA.O), Netamble, Snapchat, Spotify (SPOT.N) and Sea (SE.N). “Going abroad is one of Tencent’s most important strategies in the future,” a CITIC Securities research note said on Thursday. “The possibility of selling overseas high-quality technology and internet assets is small.”
Tencent chose to distribute the JD shares as a dividend rather than sell them on the market in an attempt to avoid a steep fall in JD.com’s share price as well as a high tax bill, the person added.
Kenny Ng, an analyst at Everbright Sun Hung Kai, said the decision was “definitely negative” for JD.com.
“Although Tencent’s reduction of JD’s holdings may not have much impact on JD’s actual business, when the shares are transferred from Tencent to Tencent’s shareholders, the chances of Tencent’s shareholders selling JD’s shares as dividends will increase,” he said.
Technology investor Prosus (PRX.AS), which is Tencent’s largest shareholder with a 29% stake and is controlled by Naspers of South Africa, will receive the biggest portion of JD.com shares.
Walmart owns a 9.3% stake in JD.com, according to the Chinese company. Payments processor Alipay is part of Tencent rival Alibaba Group .
($1 = 7.7996 Hong Kong dollars)
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Reporting by Sophie Yu in Beijing and Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Xie Yu, Selena Li, Donny Kwok and Eduardo Baptista in Hong Kong and Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Muralikumar Anantharaman
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Investors on three continents dumped stocks on Monday, fretting that the governments of the world’s two largest economies — China and the United States — would act in ways that could undercut the nascent global economic recovery.
The Chinese government’s reluctance to step in and save a highly indebted property developer just days before a big interest payment is due signaled to investors that Beijing might break with its longstanding policy of bailing out its homegrown stars.
And in the United States, the globe’s No. 1 economy, investors worried that the Federal Reserve would soon begin cutting back its huge purchases of government bonds, which had helped drive stocks to a series of record highs since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
The sell-off started in Asia and spread to Europe — where exporters to China were slammed — before landing in the United States, where stocks appeared to be heading for their worst performance of the year before a rally at the end of the trading day. The S&P 500 closed down 1.7 percent, its worst daily performance since mid-May, after being down as much as 2.9 percent in the afternoon.
to ignore a variety of issues complicating the recovery — including the emergence of the Delta variant and the supply chain snarls that have bedeviled consumers and manufacturers alike.
But beginning this month, as Evergrande began to teeter and the likelihood of the Fed’s scaling back — or tapering — its bond-buying programs grew, the market’s protective bubble began to deflate. Some U.S. investors are also concerned that tax increases are in the offing — including on share buybacks and corporate profits — to help pay for a spending push by the federal government, the signature piece of which is President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget bill. Separately, Congress also must act to raise the government’s borrowing limit, a politically charged process that has at times thrown markets for a loop.
On Monday, those currents combined, reflecting the interconnectedness of the global markets as investors everywhere sold their holdings.
the rancorous debate about increasing the debt limit was accompanied by a sharp market slump, as representatives in Washington appeared to flirt with the idea of not raising the constraint on borrowing, which would effectively amount to a default on Treasury bonds.
“It’sgoing to be drama for the sake of politics,” said Lisa Shalett, chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. “People don’t like that.”
At an employee dinner, women were told to rank the attractiveness of the men at the table. During a team-building exercise, a woman was pressured to straddle her male co-worker in front of colleagues. Top executives traded lewd comments about male virility at company events and online.
The e-commerce giant Alibaba, one of China’s most globalized internet companies, has often celebrated the number of women in its senior ranks. In 2018, the company’s billionaire co-founder, Jack Ma, told a conference in Geneva that one secret to Alibaba’s success was that 49 percent of employees were women.
But that message of female empowerment is now being called into question after an Alibaba employee accused her boss of raping her after an alcohol-fueled business dinner. The woman, who has been identified by the police and her lawyers only by her surname, Zhou, said bosses and human resources had shrugged off her complaints. She eventually resorted to screaming about the assault in a company cafeteria last month.
“An Ali male executive raped a female subordinate, and no one in the company has pursued this,” Ms. Zhou yelled, according to a video that was posted on the internet.
fired the man accused of rape, said it would establish an anti-sexual-harassment policy and declared itself “staunchly opposed to the ugly forced drinking culture.” Yet former Alibaba employees say the problems run much deeper than the company has acknowledged.
Interviews with nine former employees suggest that casual sexism is common at Alibaba. They describe a work environment in which women are made to feel embarrassed and belittled during team-building and other activities that the company has incorporated in its culture, a striking departure from the image of inclusion Alibaba has tried to project.
The police investigation into Ms. Zhou’s case is continuing. Alibaba appears to be trying to keep a lid on discussions of the matter. The company recently fired 10 employees for leaking information about the episode, according to two people familiar with the matter. Most former employees who spoke with The New York Times asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation.
immediate changes to the way it handles workplace culture and misconduct matters after Ms. Zhou’s case came to light, the statement said. Upon examining its policies and reporting processes, the company found “certain areas that did not meet our standards,” the statement said.
The statement did not address any of the specific allegations made by the former employees who spoke to The Times.
Many Alibaba departments use games and other ice-breaking activities to make co-workers feel at ease with one another. Kiki Qian joined the company in 2017. Her team welcomed her with a game of charades. When she lost, she said, she was punished by being made to “fly the plane,” as her co-workers called it. The stunt involved straddling a male colleague as he sat in an office chair. The colleague then lay back in the chair, causing Ms. Qian to fall on top of him, face first.
“I realized while carrying out the punishment that it could be a little perverted,” Ms. Qian, 28, said in a telephone interview.
On a separate occasion, Ms. Qian said, she saw a woman burst into tears after being pressured to jump into the arms of a male colleague during a team game.
Other former Alibaba employees said ice-breaking rituals included uncomfortable questions about their sexual histories. One former employee said she and other women at a team dinner had been asked to rank their male colleagues by attractiveness. Another said she had felt humiliated during a game in which employees were required to touch each other on the shoulders, back and thighs.
Mr. Ma joked onstage about how Alibaba’s grueling work hours affected employees’ sex lives.
went further with the riff at the next year’s ceremony.
“At work, we emphasize the 996 spirit,” he said, referring to the practice, common at Chinese internet companies, of working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.
“In life, we need 669,” Mr. Ma said. “Six days, six times.” The Mandarin word for “nine” sounds the same as the word for “long-lasting.” The crowd hooted and clapped.
Alibaba shared the remarks, with a winking emoji, on its official account on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform. Wang Shuai, the company’s public relations chief, wrote on Weibo that Mr. Ma’s comments had reminded him of how good it was to be young. His post included vulgar references to his anatomy.
Alibaba also gives employees a handbook of morale-boosting “Alibaba slang.” Several entries are laced with sexual innuendo. One urges employees to be “fierce and able to last a long time.”
Feng Yuan, a prominent feminist in China, said the kind of behavior described at Alibaba could create the conditions under which bullying and harassment were quietly tolerated and promoted.
“In companies where men dominate, hierarchical power structures and toxic masculinity become strengthened over time,” Ms. Feng said. “They become hotbeds for sexual harassment and violence.”
Last month, Ms. Zhou shared her rape accusation on Alibaba’s internal website. According to her account of the events, her boss told a male client who was also at the alcohol-fueled business dinner, “Look how good I am to you; I brought you a beauty,” referring to Ms. Zhou.
Boozy meals have long been widespread in corporate China, where it can be seen as offensive to refuse to drink with a superior. Three days after Ms. Zhou reported the assault to Alibaba, her boss still had not been fired, she wrote in her account. She was told that this was out of consideration for her reputation.
“This ridiculous logic,” she wrote. “Just who are they protecting?”
Elsie Chen contributed reporting. Albee Zhang and Claire Fu contributed research.
Internet infrastructure operators like Didi must now prove their political and legal legitimacy to the government, Ma Changbo, an online media start-up founder, wrote on his WeChat social media account.
“This is the second half of the U.S.-China decoupling,” he wrote. “In the capital market, the model of playing both sides of the fence is coming to an end.”
Didi, Ms. Liu and Mr. Liu didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
China’s internet companies have benefited from the best of two worlds since the 1990s. Many received foreign venture funding — 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.
The Chinese companies gained further advantages when Beijing blocked almost all big American internet companies from its domestic market, giving its home players plenty of room to grow. Many Chinese internet firms later went public in New York, where investors have a bigger appetite for innovative and risky start-ups than in Shanghai or Hong Kong. So far this year, more than 35 Chinese companies have gone public in the United States.
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Now the Didi crackdown is changing the calculations for many in China’s tech industry. One entrepreneur who has set her sights on a listing in New York for her enterprise software start-up said it would be harder to go public in Hong Kong with a high valuation because what her company did — software as a service — was a relatively new idea in China.
A venture capitalist in Beijing added that because of China’s data security requirements, it was now unlikely that start-ups in artificial intelligence and software as a service would consider going public in New York. Few people were willing to speak on the record for fear of retaliation by Beijing.
At the same time, the United States has become more hostile to Chinese tech companies and investors. As Washington has ramped up its scrutiny of deals that involve sensitive technologies, it has become almost impossible for Chinese venture firms to invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, several investors said.
China’s economy is on a tear. Factories are humming, and foreign investment is flowing in. Even so, the wealthy and powerful people atop some of the country’s most prominent companies are heading for the exits.
The latest are Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, the husband-and-wife team that runs Soho China, a property developer known for its blobby, futuristic office buildings. In striking a deal this week to sell a controlling stake to the investment giant Blackstone for as much as $3 billion, Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang are turning over the company as high-profile entrepreneurs come under public and official scrutiny in China like never before.
Soho China did not respond to a request for comment.
China’s most famous tycoon, the Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, has kept an uncharacteristically low profile since late last year, when the government began a regulatory crackdown on his companies and the wider internet industry. Colin Huang, founder of the Alibaba rival Pinduoduo, resigned as chairman in March, less than a year after he stepped down as chief executive. In May, Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, said he would hand over the chief executive post to focus on long-term strategy.
Under the Communist Party’s top leader, Xi Jinping, nationalism has been resurgent in China, and the government has sought to exert more direct influence over the private sector. Even before this week’s sale, Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang of Soho China had been avoiding the spotlight more than they did during an earlier, freer era of China’s economic revival.
going after businesspeople and intellectuals with big online followings. The police that year arrested Wang Gongquan, a friend of Mr. Pan’s and supporter of human rights causes, on charges of disrupting public order.
Mr. Pan and Ms. Zhang began selling off property holdings in China and spending more time in the United States. The family of Ms. Zhang and the Safra family of Brazil, long involved in international banking, teamed up to buy a 40 percent stake in the General Motors building in Manhattan.
They noted that the couple donated generously to Harvard and Yale but not to Chinese universities.
After media reports accused Soho China of “fleeing” Shanghai by selling projects there, Mr. Pan wrote on Weibo: “Buying and selling is normal. Don’t read too much into it.”
The company’s last big public event was the opening of Leeza Soho, a lithe, spiraling skyscraper in Beijing, in late 2019. Zaha Hadid, the famed architect who designed the tower and a friend of Ms. Zhang’s, had died a few years earlier.
Last year, Ren Zhiqiang, a retired property mogul and friend of Mr. Pan’s, was detained for an essay he shared with friends on a private chat group. The essay criticized Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the direction he was taking the country. Mr. Ren was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Today, Mr. Pan’s and Ms. Zhang’s Weibo accounts are filled with bland, friendly material: holiday greetings, book recommendations, photos of flowers in bloom outside Soho China buildings. Both of their accounts are set to display only the past half year’s posts.
On Wednesday night, minutes after Soho China announced the sale on its official Weibo account, Mr. Pan reposted the announcement without comment, in what online commentators called a “silent farewell.”
ZHAOQING, China — Xpeng Motors, a Chinese electric car start-up, recently opened a large assembly plant in southeastern China and is building a matching factory nearby. It has announced plans for a third.
Another Chinese electric car company, Nio, has opened one large factory in central China and is preparing to build a second a few miles away.
Zhejiang Geely, owner of Volvo, showed off an enormous new electric car factory in eastern China last month rivaling in size some of the world’s largest assembly plants. Evergrande, a troubled Chinese real estate giant, has just built electric car factories in the cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou and hopes to be making almost as many fully electric cars by 2025 as all of North America.
China is erecting factories for electric cars almost as fast as the rest of the world combined. Chinese manufacturers are using the billions they have raised from international investors and sympathetic local leaders to beat established carmakers to the market.
Europe is on track to make 5.7 million fully electric cars by then.
have plans to catch up. In April, President Biden called for the United States to step up its electric vehicle efforts. During a virtual visit to an electric bus factory in South Carolina, he warned, “Right now, we’re running way behind China.”
North American automakers are on track to build only 1.4 million electric cars a year by 2028, according to LMC, compared with 410,000 last year.
eliminate gasoline and diesel engines entirely in the next 15 years.
For the new Chinese cars, name recognition will be a major challenge. The brands are mostly unfamiliar even to Chinese drivers. On roads filled with Buicks, Volkswagens and Mercedes-Benzes, they could struggle to stand out.
Alibaba, the e-commerce company, and two state-backed firms have set up an electric car joint venture under the name IM Motors, which plans to begin delivering cars early next year.
Evergrande named its brand Hengchi, pronounced “Hung-cheh.” A stock market mania for electric cars has propelled the Hong Kong-traded shares of the company’s electric car unit, Evergrande New Energy Vehicle, to almost the same market capitalization as G.M.
Evergrande plans to make and sell a million fully electric cars a year by 2025. So far, it has sold none.
Geely, an industry veteran with recognized brands in China, has named its electric brand Zeekr, which rhymes with “seeker.” It plans to begin delivering cars in October.
The Zeekr is being made in a new electric car factory near Ningbo, on China’s eastern coast. The factory is a cavernous space with miles of white conveyor belts and rows of 15-foot cream-colored robots made by ABB of Sweden. It has an initial capacity of 300,000 cars a year, larger than most car factories in Detroit, and floor space for expansion.
“What is the most important thing is, China has the market,” said Zhao Chunlin, the factory’s general manager.
Mr. He named Xpeng, pronounced “X-pung,” after himself. Xpeng’s niche feature is a cooing, Siri-like voice assistant that guides the car’s internet services, like directions and music, and its computer-assisted highway driving. Xpeng plans to have the capacity to make 300,000 cars a year by 2024; last year it sold fewer than one-tenth that many.
Mr. He made his first fortune developing a mobile phone browser company, UCWeb. He sold it to Alibaba in 2014 and became president of Alibaba’s mobile business services unit. The same year he helped bankroll two former executives from state-owned Guangzhou Auto to start Xpeng.
Three years later, Mr. He took direct control of Xpeng and left Alibaba, which also acquired a small stake in the automaker. Mr. He said that his second child had been born, and that he wanted to be able to tell his son that he led a car company. Mr. He holds 23 percent of Xpeng’s shares, while Alibaba holds 12 percent.
Chinese government officials have helped along the way. A state-owned enterprise in Zhaoqing, a 1,000-year-old jade-carving town near Guangzhou, lent $233 million to Xpeng in 2017 for the construction of its initial factory with annual capacity of about 100,000 cars. The city has been subsidizing the company’s interest payments since then, according to Xpeng’s regulatory filings.
The city of Wuhan helped Xpeng buy land and borrow money at low interest rates for a new plant there. The Guangzhou government also helped Xpeng start building its factory in that city, said Brian Gu, vice chairman and president of Xpeng.
Last year, after weathering the pandemic, Xpeng cashed in on Wall Street, where Tesla’s rise whetted investor appetite for the industry. The Chinese company raised $5 billion in an initial public offering and subsequent share sales. It is spending part of the money on new factories and part of it on research and development, particularly in autonomous driving.
Xpeng’s deep pockets are visible in costly automation at its Zhaoqing factory. Robots lift 44-pound car roofs of dark tinted glass, apply aerospace-strength glue and press them into place. Waist-high robots glide across the gray concrete floor, carrying instrument panels while playing an instrumental version of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” (The robots came programmed that way, company officials explained.)
The factory took only 15 months to build, considerably faster than assembly plants in the West. Yan Hui, the general manager of the factory’s final assembly area, said decisions were made more quickly than at the German auto parts manufacturer where he used to work.
“Any design change took a long time — sign, sign, even sign in German,” he said. “But at Xpeng, we can just make the change.”
Even though many of the electric car brands are new to China, their owners already have ambitions abroad. Xpeng is starting to export cars to Europe, beginning with Norway. Chery, a big state-owned automaker in central China, announced last week that it would start exporting gasoline-powered cars to the United States next year and follow with electric cars.
The United States will be a difficult market. The Trump administration imposed 25 percent taxes in 2018 on cars imported from China, which has slowed exports. Many electric car parts are covered by the same tariffs. That makes it harder, but not impossible, for Chinese companies to start shipping electric cars in kits to the United States for assembly.
For now, Chinese companies see huge potential to build their brands.
Michael Dunne, the chief executive of ZoZo Go, a consulting firm specializing in the electric car industry in Asia, said the industry’s outlook was becoming clear: “China is going to be the global dominator when it comes to making electric cars.”
Some of the wealthiest and most influential Asian-American business leaders are mounting an ambitious plan to challenge anti-Asian discrimination, rewrite school curriculums to reflect the role of Asian-Americans in history and collect data to guide policymakers.
The group has pledged $125 million to a new initiative, the Asian American Foundation. The foundation has raised another $125 million from organizations like Walmart, Bank of America, the Ford Foundation and the National Basketball Association.
It is the single largest philanthropic gift devoted to Asian-Americans, who make up about 6 percent of the U.S. population but receive less than 1 percent of philanthropic funding.
The effort comes amid a surge in violence against Asian-Americans. Over the past year, hate crime against Asian-Americans has jumped 169 percent, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, which tracks the crimes in 15 major American cities. In New York City, hate crimes have risen even more, by 223 percent.
The donors to the foundation include Joseph Bae, a co-president of the private equity firm KKR; Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the founder of the caregiver marketplace Care.com; Li Lu, the founder and chairman of the hedge fund Himalaya Capital; Joseph Tsai, a co-founder and the executive vice chairman of the Chinese technology giant Alibaba; Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo; and Peng Zhao, the chief executive of the market maker Citadel Securities. The group’s advisory committee includes Indra Nooyi, a former chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo; the professional basketball player Jeremy Lin; and the journalist Fareed Zakaria.
stereotyped as successful and wealthy. This “persistent and powerful model minority myth” reveals “a lack of understanding of the disparities that exist,” said Sonal Shah, the president of the Asian American Foundation.
In New York City, Asian-Americans win a disproportionate number of spots at the most prestigious and exclusive public schools. But while Asian-Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. work force, they make up only 1.5 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers. Among all ethnic and racial groups in the United States, Asians have the biggest income gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent, according to Pew Research. Asian-Americans hold only 3 percent of congressional seats.
The donors behind the new initiative are taking a page from a recent effort by prominent Black executives, who mounted a campaign against voting bills in Georgia and elsewhere that disproportionately harm Black voters, pushing much of corporate America to join them.
“They feel the urgency of now, because they realize that racism transcends class and success in America,” said Darren Walker, the chief executive of the Ford Foundation.
has shifted in recent years. Asian-Americans voted overwhelmingly for Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the presidential election, according to exit polls. But a closer look reveals differences among groups.
Mr. Biden was favored by about two-thirds of Indian-Americans going into the vote, according to the Asian American Voter Survey. Chinese-Americans favored Mr. Biden at 56 percent, but as many as 23 percent said they were undecided. Vietnamese-Americans preferred Donald J. Trump by 48 percent to 36 percent for Mr. Biden, with the remaining undecided.
Another part of the initiative’s mission will be to reshape the public’s understanding of the unique challenges that Asian-Americans have faced throughout the nation’s history. The new foundation has contributed to the Asian American Education Project, which is working with PBS on the series “Asian Americans” and developing lesson plans for K-12 teachers that highlight the experiences of the group.
“Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are part of American history and culture,” Ms. Shah said. “It’s about time our story was synonymous with the story of America.”