Banquets show uneasy relationships among China's tech titans

December 07, 2017 09:00’s founder Richard Liu and Wang Xing, CEO of Meituan-Dianping jointly hosted a dinner. Tencent’s Pony Ma was invited but Alibaba's Jack Ma wasn’t. Photo:

The fourth World Internet Conference concluded in the historic water town of Wuzhen in east China on Tuesday. It’s an annual gathering of powerful tech executives and government officials.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Tencent’s Pony Ma, Baidu’s Li Yanhong, Xiaomi’s Leijun,’s Richard Liu, Lenovo’s Yang Yuanqing attended the meeting.

Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai joined the conference for the first time.

The theme of this year’s conference was developing the digital economy and facilitating open sharing. The unofficial banquets on the sidelines shed more light on the relationships among Chinese tech firms, which seem to be getting increasingly tense.

Three dinners were most eye catching. The first one was organized by Ding Lei, founder and CEO of tech conglomerate NetEase. The gathering attracted most of the industry’s biggest names, including Pony Ma, Li Yanhong, Lei Jun, Richard Liu, Yang Yuanqing, and Souhu’s Zhang Chaoyang, Qihu 360’s Zhou Hongyi, Cheng Wei, co-founder and CEO of the ride-hailing company Didi-Chuxing, and Neil Shen, head of Sequoia Capital China.

It showed that NetEase’s Ding has strong connections in the internet world. Also, he is well known as a gourmet and served non-GMO black pork harvested from the NetEase Weiyang farm to his guests.

Another dinner was jointly hosted by founder Richard Liu and Wang Xing, CEO of Meituan-Dianping. Most of the guests at Ding’s banquet also appeared in the second dinner. Some were newcomers, including Wang Xiaofeng, CEO of bike-rental startup Mobike, Zhang Yiming, CEO of news aggregator platform Toutiao.

The third banquet was hosted by Jack Ma and most of the guests were senior officials of Alibaba. The only two outsiders were Lenovo’s Yang Yuanqing and Didi-Didi-Chuxing’s Cheng Wei.

What’s interesting is that Jack Ma was absent from the first two banquets and his own banquet only invited two outsiders, marking the heightened hostility among major tech players.

Unlike a few years ago when there was huge untapped markets of all sorts, big tech firms, which largely fall into two camps (Alibaba and Tencent) now have to engage in head-on competitions in numerous fields such as e-commerce and e-payment.

“I did not get invitations from those banquets, and I don’t have time for them,” Ma said.

In fact, the tension can also be felt in the keynote speeches.’s founder Richard Liu said: ”We’ve already been rich. But to what extent? Some said making 100 million yuan is a small goal, and others say making several billion yuan a month is painful.” His second remarks referred to Jack Ma.

Liu was probably upset by Ma’s earlier comments on JD’s move to introduce e-commerce into a village in north China’s Hebei province to lift local residents out of poverty. Ma was seen as mocking Liu’s initiative as lacking big vision.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 6

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist