Chill pervades China's tech firms even as crackdown eases

Chill pervades China's tech firms even as crackdown eases


HONG KONG (AP) — A grinding crackdown that wiped billions of dollars of value off Chinese technology companies is easing, but the once-freewheeling industry is bracing for much slower growth ahead.

Analysts say China’s easing of restrictions on companies like e-commerce giant Alibaba and online games company Tencent and talk of support for the private sector reflects Beijing’s decision to refocus on growth after the economy was ravaged by the pandemic and restrictions imposed to fight COVID-19.

But controls on internet content r emain firmly in place. And the crackdown has left a “chilling” effect on the industry, potentially slowing innovation, while U.S. restrictions against China’s computer chips industry are hindering progress in developing leading edge technology in 5G and artificial intelligence.

In January, a top official at China’s central bank said in an interview with state-owned media that the crackdown on technology companies was “basically” over, adding that companies would be encouraged to lead economic growth and create more jobs. That came just weeks after China dropped stringent entry restrictions and testing and quarantine requirements that were part of its “zero-COVID" strategy meant to quash the virus.

“With the end of the zero-COVID policy, China is returning to prioritizing economic growth, and the technology sector is obviously a critical driver of growth in China and a celebrated source of innovation,” said Gregory Allen, a senior fellow in the Strategic Technologies Program at the U.S. research organization Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Companies like Alibaba and Tencent control everyday apps and services that are used ubiquitously by large swathes of the population – including online payments, messaging, food delivery and...

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