BEIJING, China: China's competition watchdog, the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR), plans to add more staff and resources as it revamps its competition laws to include heavy fines and expanded criteria for judging a company's control of the market and investigates anti-competitive practices among companies.
Recently it fined Alibaba $2.75 billion after an antimonopoly probe found the e-commerce giant had abused its leading market position for several years, highlighting the challenges ahead for companies, including global firms with operations in China.
It also reflects the increasing activism of U.S. and European antitrust authorities in recent years.
The Beijing-headquartered agency plans to expand its antitrust workforce by 20 to 30 staff members, delegate case reviewing powers to its local bureaus and source additional manpower from other government bodies and agencies to handle cases that require extensive investigations, sources said.
The sources added that budgets allocated for antimonopoly investigations, daily operations and research projects will also be augmented.
The SAMR did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
"An increase in staffing, as well as in the quality of the bureau's law enforcement capabilities, is a must for an antitrust push," said Liu Xu, a researcher at the National Strategy Institute of Tsinghua University.
"Otherwise, regulators won't be able to handle multiple cases at one time, and the public will question how transparent the investigation process would be," said Liu, a long-time advocate for antitrust enforcement.
The SAMR's antitrust bureau was established in early 2018 after two government departments were merged into it to form a single authority to check monopolistic activities, fortified with more stringent laws in the past few months.
Its enhanced powers come as Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed last month the need to "strengthen antitrust powers" to rein in giants that play a dominant role in the country's consumer sector.
Executives of major internet firms have been asked to make routine reports to the antitrust bureau regarding mergers or of practices that could violate anti-monopoly regulations, one of the sources said.
For now, the focus is on who will be the next target of the Chinese antitrust watchdog among the domestic technology champions.
"Other tech companies would be wise to assume they may be receiving the same level of scrutiny and penalt," said Fred Hu, chairman of private equity firm Primavera Group, referring to the fine imposed on Alibaba.
"The heavy fine on one of the country's dominant tech leaders also sends a strong message to the broader tech sector that the Chinese regulators, like their European counterparts, are serious about cracking down on Big Tech."