【明報專訊】The storm surrounding the biggest ride-hailing company on the mainland, Didi Chuxing, has continued to smoulder. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has proposed revisions to its rules to make it mandatory for any tech company possessing information of more than one million users to apply for permission before filing for an overseas initial public offering (IPO) as a way to prevent customer data from being leaked. According to various mainland and foreign news reports, Didi had ignored Beijing's demand of assuring a sound protection of sensitive information and cybersecurity before listing hastily in the US. The central government's move to straighten up regulations has not only highlighted the importance of data security to the state but also reflected Beijing's intolerance of conceited tech giants that regard themselves as ''too big to fail'' and consider only profit chasing without any concern about their responsibility to society and the state. Further observation is still needed to determine whether Beijing's move to toughen supervision over US-listed mainland companies will mean the speeding up of the ''decoupling'' between China and the US in the capital market. Nevertheless, as some of the mainland tech companies are likely to slow down the pace of going public in the US in the short term, the Hong Kong government should grasp the opportunity, get on with its work and strengthen the city's status as an international financial centre.
The US stock market is characterised by its large size and loose regulation. For a foreign company, it is an attractive place, since the cost for getting listed is low, the time required is short, and it is possible to raise a huge sum of money. Didi raised around US$4.4 billion through its US listing at the end of last month, making it the largest IPO by a mainland company in the US since Alibaba Group's debut in 2014. But Didi submitted its offering prospectus to the US regulatory authority only on June 10. Its IPO was one of those with the shortest subscription periods for investors in recent years. On July 2, Beijing ordered a review of Didi's cybersecurity. The authorities said the Didi app was found to be ''in serious violation of regulations concerning its collection and use of personal information'' and the company's more than two dozen apps were all removed from mobile stores. Last weekend, the CAC even proposed revising the regulations. To prevent data leakage, any company possessing information of more than one million customers must make disclosures and apply for permission before having an overseas listing. Companies handling activities that may affect national security are also subject to a cybersecurity check-up.
As Didi has the travel data of a huge number of users all over the country and the detailed information of maps and positioning, it will be a national security risk if the big data is divulged to a foreign government. In the eyes of Beijing, Didi cared only about money when it hastily sought to raise funds in the US. What it wanted was only to make its US listing a fait accompli as quickly as possible. It ignored its responsibility as an IT giant to the state and society. Beijing's rebuke to Didi is different in nature from the previous clampdown on Ant Group. One of the major concerns regarding the delay of Ant Group's IPO is financial risk. To a large extent, the storm arising from Didi's stealthy listing in the US involves national security and data security as well as the company's ''disloyalty underneath its pretended faithfulness'' to Beijing. As the graveness of Didi's problem is more pronounced, the overhaul and penalty awaiting Didi may be even heavier than those faced by Ant Group and its parent company Alibaba.
In the short term, one may suppose that mainland technology companies will be more cautious about going public in the US. On the other hand, as Hong Kong is a part of the nation, there is no risk of leaking sensitive information to foreign countries here. The government should grasp the chance and provide more convenience for mighty mainland tech companies to go public in Hong Kong.
明報社評 2021.07.13：科企赴美上市出事 港可把握機遇招手
■/ Glossary 生字 /
fait accompli /ˌfeɪt əˈkɒmpliː/
sth that has already happened or been done and that you cannot change
behaving or done in a cautious and surreptitious manner, so as not to be seen or heard
very obvious, easy to notice or strongly expressed