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A man uses his smartphone at a display for Huawei 5G services at a Beijing expo. A display for 5G services from Chinese technology firm Huawei at the PT Expo in Beijing, Oct. 31, 2019 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

China’s Protectionism Online Is Driving Its Own Decoupling With the U.S.

Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019

In 2003, just as I was arriving in China as a correspondent for The New York Times, tectonic changes were coming to the worlds of internet commerce, search and social media. But their rumblings were so deep beneath the surface that few could have predicted their long-term consequences.

That year, Alibaba, a four-year-old web company that had started out of an apartment in Hangzhou, fended off an ambitious push by eBay into China’s e-commerce market by eliminating merchant fees for Taobao, Alibaba’s own e-commerce platform, even as it was losing money. The move helped put Alibaba on the road to becoming the world’s biggest seller of goods online and its founder, Jack Ma, one of the world’s richest men. It was part of a series of measures, both public and private, that were meant to create “national champions” for the internet in China, meaning companies that would compete vigorously for business globally, while getting help from Beijing in keeping foreign companies out of their home market. ...

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