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Why US sanctions on China’s Ant Group may be an empty threat

Why US sanctions on China’s Ant Group may be an empty threat

Washington could soon expand its war against Chinese tech companies by setting its sights on Ant Group, the crown jewel of billionaire Jack Ma’s empire.



a group of people performing on a counter: People walk past the Ant Group Co. mascot displayed at the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, China, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. Jack Ma's Ant Group is seeking to raise $17.5 billion in its Hong Kong share sale and won't seek to lock in cornerstone investors, confident there will be plenty of demand for one of the largest equity deals in the financial hub, according to people familiar with the matter. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images


© Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People walk past the Ant Group Co. mascot displayed at the company’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. Jack Ma’s Ant Group is seeking to raise $17.5 billion in its Hong Kong share sale and won’t seek to lock in cornerstone investors, confident there will be plenty of demand for one of the largest equity deals in the financial hub, according to people familiar with the matter. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But there doesn’t appear to be much the US government could do to realistically hurt the digital finance company. Unlike other Chinese tech firms that have drawn the ire of Washington, Ant does little business in the United States.

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Ant Group was floated as a potential US target by Bloomberg News, which reported last week that the Trump administration is considering restrictions on Ant, as well as Tencent’s WeChat Pay. Citing people familiar with the matter, the news outlet said the US government fears that their digital payment platforms threaten national security.

WeChat is already facing scrutiny in the United States, but sanctions on Ant and its payments app Alipay would be an escalation in the US-China tech war. Alipay and WeChat Pay are daily necessities for hundreds of millions of Chinese merchants and consumers. Ant’s wealth management products are also used by millions.

US authorities are worried about Ant because it represents “new modes of finance that they can no longer control,” said Cameron Johnson, adjunct faculty instructor at New York University in Shanghai and partner at consulting firm Tidal Wave Solutions.

It’s not clear how close Washington may be

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