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Rakuten takes stake in Chinese online discount provider Fanli

[TOKYO] Japanese online retailer Rakuten Inc said on Monday it bought a stake of less than 10 per cent in Chinese online discount provider Fanli Inc, as it continues a push into overseas markets.

Rakuten - one of Japan's biggest online retailers - is trying to use its stronghold in its domestic market to transform itself from a pure e-commerce firm into a one-stop-site for a global audience, along the lines of Inc.

The Fanli investment comes about a month after Rakuten bought US eBook company OverDrive Inc for about US$410 million. Other high-profile acquisitions in recent years have included free messaging application Viber for US$900 million and Canadian e-book reader Kobo for US$315 million.

Rakuten did not disclose the size of the stake it bought in Fanli or how much it paid, and a spokesman declined to comment further. The investment valued Fanli at about US$1 billion, according to a Rakuten statement.

Kevin Johnson, the chief executive officer of Ebates, a US-based online discount operator that Rakuten bought for US$1 billion last year, will join Fanli's board of directors, the company said.

Rakuten already offers online services such as financing, travel, shopping and online video. It also announced last year it would set up a Japanese low-cost carrier with Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia Bhd.

Fanli, a Shanghai-based company, provides online discounts and sales. It currently has 70 million members, according to the company statement.