China opens antitrust inquiry into Alibaba, the giant for e-commerce

China’s market regulator said on Thursday it had launched an antitrust inquiry into e-commerce giant Alibaba, in which government control was investigated by one of the world’s most valuable internet companies.

In a brief statement, the State Administration for Market Regulation said it had launched the investigation amid reports that Alibaba had engaged in monopolistic behavior, such as placing unreasonable restrictions on merchants or other users of its platforms.

Representatives of Alibaba, based in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The investigation is part of a broader official pushback against the business empire of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co – founder and by some count China’s richest man.

In November, the market regulator issued proposals for rules aimed at combating anti-competitive behavior by Internet companies. Earlier that month, Chinese regulators halted the first public offering of Ant Group, Alibaba’s financial-focused sister company, and lifted a listing that had been on course to be the largest in history. The move came after Mr. Ma publicly criticized Chinese regulators for being too obsessed with containing financial risk.

On Thursday, four regulatory agencies, including the country’s central bank, said officials would soon meet with Ant to discuss new oversight of the financial industry. Ant said in a statement that it “will seriously study and strictly comply with all regulatory requirements and fully commit to performing all related work.”

Alibaba has a strong position in online shopping in China. It operates the Taobao Marketplace, an online bazaar where merchants set up electronic stands to sell to customers. Alibaba’s Tmall platform caters to major Chinese and global brands. Alibaba makes money by hosting marketplaces and charging service providers.

The People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, quickly endorsed the investigation in an article that appeared to be a sign of broader support and coordination behind the movement.

“This is an important step towards strengthening antitrust supervision in the Internet sphere,” said the article, which was published on the newspaper’s website on Thursday morning. “This will be beneficial for the regulation of an orderly sector and promote the long-term healthy development of platforms.”

This is a story that is evolving. Come back for updates.

Chris Buckley contributed reporting.