Tencent’s Ma dangles billions in aid as antitrust scrutiny grows

A file photo of Ma at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai, China. The billionaire CEO pledged to set aside 50bil yuan (RM31.68bil) for a ‘sustainable social values’ programme, in what would be one of China’s largest corporate charity initiatives. — Reuters

Tencent Holdings Ltd founder Pony Ma pledged US$7.7bil (RM31.75bil) toward curing societal ills and lifting China’s countryside out of poverty, echoing Xi Jinping’s priorities at a time Beijing is tightening its grip on internet giants.

The billionaire chief executive officer on Monday pledged to set aside 50bil yuan (RM31.68bil) for a “sustainable social values” programme, in what would be one of China’s largest corporate charity initiatives. Tencent promised to tackle a plethora of issues from renewable energy and scientific education to health care and rural revitalisation – a centerpiece of Xi’s over-arching policy framework. The gaming and social media giant intends to fold its existing foundation and philanthropic activity into a new unit to oversee the initiative, which also encompasses carbon neutrality, the provision of food, water and energy, and general public welfare.

The programme coincides with a period of intensified scrutiny over the growing power and influence of China’s largest corporations from Tencent to Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, which received a US$2.8bil (RM11.54bil) fine for allegedly abusing its market dominance. Regulators are now said to be eyeing Tencent, China’s largest publisher of games and content for a billion-plus people on WeChat. Last week, the Shenzhen-based company pledged to comply with antitrust laws and eradicate monopolistic practices.

“Tencent should continue to respond to the ever-changing needs of the public and of the era, so as to develop and prosper together with society as a whole,” Ma said in a memo to employees published online.

Tencent’s ear-marked budget could rank among the world’s largest corporate philanthropic endeavours – total US charitable giving from individuals, non-profits and corporations surpassed US$449bil (RM1.85 trillion) in 2019, according to the Giving USA foundation. The Chinese company has only just completed one of the year’s biggest Asian dollar-bond deals and had about US$23bil (RM94.85bil) of cash and equivalents at the end of December.

Corporations around the world have in recent years stepped up philanthropy and so-called ESG or environmental, social and governance efforts, in part because investors are paying more attention to this area. China itself has launched campaigns to clean up the environment, worried about the toll pollution could take on the economy as well as its people. Ahead of an annual meeting of top officials this year, Ma led research into low-carbon industries and submitted a proposal to lawmakers regarding carbon neutrality for tech companies. – Bloomberg

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