CHINA’S BUSTLING digital economy has spawned thousands of startups. Yet in the eyes of many it remains “BAT or bust”, to cite a saying among jobseekers from the country’s elite universities. The BAT in question refers to the original trio of Chinese internet stars: Baidu, a search engine; Alibaba, an online emporium; and Tencent, a mobile-payments and video-game titan. The acronym is overdue an update.
Alibaba and Tencent continue to lord it over digital China. With market capitalisations of nearly $700bn apiece, they are the world’s seventh- and eighth-biggest listed companies, respectively. Having struggled to adapt as consumers moved from desktops to smartphones, Baidu languishes in 319th place; its erstwhile equals can gain or lose the equivalent of its entire market value of $45bn in a day or two.
The BAT label also belies another development. Newer arrivals have been busily remodelling the upper reaches of China’s cyberscape. They include firms like JD.com, a $100bn e-merchant listed in New York, Didi Chuxing, a privately held ride-hailing giant valued at $60bn or so, and the $100bn-plus ByteDance, the world’s biggest unlisted startup (which owns, among other things, TikTok, a short-video app popular with Western teenagers).
None has set investors’ pulses racing of late more...
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