China's rise to prominence as an antitrust regime of major importance for companies engaging in global M&A activity has granted it considerable leverage to influence the landscape of the industries in which its domestic companies participate. However, recent events have raised the prospects for greater activism by the national regulators in determining whether a merger or acquisition should go ahead and, if so, on what conditions.
The State Administration for Market Regulation recently fined two Shenzhen tally companies a total of Rmb3,163,108 for entering into a horizontal monopoly agreement. This is one of the first cases to be announced by the newly established antitrust law enforcement agency and may therefore indicate its attitude towards certain industries and behaviours. In particular, the way in which the competitors in this case were identified could raise new compliance challenges for companies doing business in China.
The finalised three-pronged plan for consolidating China's antitrust agencies under the State Administration for Market Regulation was recently released. This initiative has been anticipated and speculated on since the central government's release of its structural reform plan in March 2018. According to the government's plan, the three-pronged plan should have been released in June 2018, but this was substantially delayed due to differences of opinion regarding the reform.
The Ministry of Commerce recently promulgated the Measures for the Review of Concentrations of Business Operators (revised draft) for consultation. However, the revised draft still lacks provisions on the shifting alliances concept. The relevant Anti-monopoly Law enforcement agencies should consider this concept in future, as acknowledging it at the legislative level will finally place China's antitrust system among those of the world's most advanced anti-monopoly jurisdictions.
The Anti-monopoly Law enforcement agencies are increasingly investigating and finding fault with collective boycotts among competitors. As the presumption of illegality for collective boycotts requires a high level of compliance, businesses should be aware that although an independent decision not to deal with distributors or suppliers may not raise Anti-monopoly Law concerns, an agreement with competitors not to do so could raise such concerns.
China's ambitious agenda in the Internet of Things (IoT) industry encourages companies to develop and adopt their own technological standards. This standardisation is necessary to integrate the varying equipment, software and service applications of a digital IoT ecosystem into multiple technologies across the value chain. Despite the expectation of free licensing schemes for service level technology, such integration necessarily draws on a multitude of patents, including standard-essential patents.
The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology recently released its Notification on the Network Security Inspection of the Telecom and Internet Industry in 2018. According to the notification, the inspection will cover the networks and systems established and operated by, among other players, internet enterprises and domain name registration administration and service organisations licensed by telecoms regulators.
The Ministry of Public Security recently launched a nationwide security inspection and correction campaign regarding Big Data applications in China. This campaign is one of a series of network security inspection projects which target key information systems, critical information infrastructure and Big Data. The Big Data campaign focuses on the level of supervision, security and protection afforded in the collection, storage, application, transfer and destruction of such data.
The National Information Security Standardisation Technical Committee recently released the Information Security Technology – Guide to the Personal Information Security Impact Assessment (Draft for Comment). The guide provides direction on the personal information specification and stipulates the basic concepts, framework, methods and procedures regarding personal information security impact assessments.
The State Internet Information Office recently released the Digital China Construction and Development Report (2017), laying a foundation for further enhancing China's network security protection capabilities. The report urges China to, among other things, establish a 'correct' view of cybersecurity, strengthen the top-level design of its network security and improve its network security laws and regulations.
Ping An Insurance (Group), a relative newcomer to the insurance industry, now ranks among the world's largest and most valuable insurers. Notably, its use of technology to embrace new business models that supplement its core insurance offerings is indicative of a wider global trend of providing customers with digital, added-value services. However, in China, this evolution towards added-value ecosystem-related services and the potential advantages on offer is marked by a different set of market considerations.
Despite a range of stakeholders having vested interests in developing the private health insurance market, it has remained underdeveloped and is generally considered by Chinese insurers to be unprofitable compared with life insurance lines. Insurers have also found it hard to stimulate uptake by a consumer base that is relatively unfamiliar with the added value of such products. As such, the Chinese health insurance market is not as mature, innovative or profitable as it could be.
The China Insurance Regulatory Committee recently promulgated the new Measures for the Administration of Equity in Insurance Companies, which state that if the shareholding proportion of an insurer's foreign shareholders accounts for more than 25% of its registered capital, the relevant provisions of the measures must be applied by reference. This express inclusion of foreign-invested insurers represents a substantial shift away from current practice.
Since the end of 2017, the China Insurance Regulatory Committee has taken numerous regulatory measures to address disorder in the insurance market, some of which have brought certain domestic life insurers to task. The measures are notable, as they underline a renewed emphasis on controlling financial risks, which is of utmost concern for the government.
Following the resumption of bilateral trade treaty talks between China and the United States, a 100-day plan was mooted which promised to improve trade ties going forward. One area of focus in this regard has been the foreign ownership limits that apply to inbound investment in Chinese financial services groups, including those pertaining to the country's insurance industry. This policy shift has given rise to expectations that further foreign investment in the insurance industry will increase significantly.