Alibaba leads the charge for China's internet expansion overseas
In recent months, Alibaba has made its first two US acquisitions, Vendio and Auctiva. It is pushing to expand its overseas presence with AliExpress, its new online marketplace, and executives said they would be happy to buy back Yahoo's 40% stake in the group (although they are currently engaged in a spat. Analysts see little prospect of this for now: the group is Yahoo's foothold in China and has helped hold up its share price).
"Alibaba is extremely ambitious and they want to champion China's outbound growth," said Duncan Clark, chairman of the consultancy BDA China. "You've got the first wave of natural resource companies; the second wave of manufacturing, moving into hi-tech with companies like Huawei. Now the big question is: can Chinese companies prosper and operate in managing businesses overseas and targeting overseas consumers? They're going to have a crack at it and they're encouraged by the government to do so."
Alibaba may be better positioned than most. Overseas experience? Check – its original site, alibaba.com, connects foreign businesses to Chinese suppliers. A visionary boss with a flair for publicity? Check – Ma, a puckish former teacher, has the profile of a cooler Sir Richard Branson. Deep pockets? Check – alibaba.com's 2007 flotation netted $1.5bn and Japan's Softbank has provided additional investment.
Like other Chinese internet companies, Alibaba has already trounced a US giant at home; cultural differences and government policy have left the west's household names as also-rans, has-beens or never-weres on the Chinese mainland. Baidu and Tencent run things here, not Google or Amazon.