China’s JD.com Founder Wears an ‘Invisible Shackle’: Analyst

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Liu Qiangdong, or Richard Liu, founder and chairman of JD.com, recently transferred his ownership of equity shares at two subsidiary companies after stepping down as CEO in April.

One Chinese affairs analyst believes Liu made the move in response to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) campaign to target the business elite.

The Powerful Economic Players

JD.com, a Beijing-based online retailer and China’s largest e-commerce business by revenue, has more than 580.8 million active customers and a revenue of 951.6 billion yuan (about $148 billion) in 2021, according to its 2022 report.

Liu established the company in 2004. He was among Fortune Magazine’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” in 2015. According to Forbes, he has a net worth of $12.3 billion as of Sept. 21.

Since the CCP tightened its antitrust regulation, Chinese e-commerce and tech companies—including Alibaba, Tencent, and JD.com—have faced a series of disciplinary warnings and fines.

In April 2021, Beijing’s market regulator summoned more than 30 Chinese internet companies, including JD.com, and warned them of “severe punishment” if they didn’t comply with competition rules.

The warning came after Beijing released its new anti-monopoly guidelines in February 2021. The rules targeted the big internet platforms; for example, e-commerce giant Alibaba was fined $2.75 billion in April 2021.

Then Liu stepped down from his post as executive director in September 2021 and as CEO in April 2022. He remained the chairman of the board.

On Sept.16, JD.com’s subsidiaries, JD Health and JD Logistics, announced on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange that Liu agreed to transfer his 45 percent shares to JD Group Vice President Miao Qin.

Epoch Times Photo
Richard Liu, CEO and founder of JD.com, attend a France-Chinese forum on artificial intelligence at SOHO 3Q in Beijing on Jan. 9, 2018. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

The Invisible Shackles

Chinese affairs analyst Wang He told the Chinese language edition of The Epoch Times on Sept. 19 that Beijing is eliminating all of China’s prominent figures by tightening regulations—for fear of their dominance in the economy and in politics—to secure its one-party rule.

In recent years, China’s top business leaders—such as Alibaba’s Jack Ma, ByteDance’s Zhang Yiming, and Pinduoduo’s Chang Huangzheng—have taken early retirements.

Wang said, “The many Chinese Liu Qiangdongs are all wearing invisible shackles under the CCP’s ruling.”

Between 2019 and June 30, 2021, Liu resigned from at least 298 companies as president, chairman, and shareholder.

In six years, Liu has cashed out a total of $10 billion starting in 2016, according to Chinese media.

Wang said that Liu’s actions showed that he was trying to protect his interests, but he couldn’t stop the CCP. “Beyond the limit, the regime will hit him as hard as it dealt with Didi.”

Didi, the Chinese ride-hailing company, received a fine of $1.2 billion for allegedly breaking data security laws after a year-long probe, which forced the company to delist from the United States in July.

Wang said CCP leader Xi Jinping is tightening his grip on power and reining in political rivals and business leaders ahead of the Party’s 20th National Congress. The dictatorship will never allow uncontrolled development of private enterprises such as the internet giants.

“Through pressure, negotiation, reorganization, and control, the regime will remove its target’s economic and political influence,” Wang said.

Cheng Jing contributed to this report.

Mary Hong

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Mary Hong has contributed to The Epoch Times since 2020. She has reported on Chinese human rights issues and politics.



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