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China mulls forcing Tencent, Alibaba to offer rivals' online payment services

[BEIJING] China proposed new regulations on Friday that could force Internet companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, Tencent Holdings Ltd and Baidu Inc to offer their rivals' online payment services as well as their own.

China has the world's largest Internet population and Beijing is trying to better regulate the country's rapidly-changing Internet sector, drawing up rules for everything from censorship to cybersecurity and e-commerce.

Companies which own payment systems can reap huge profits by charging transaction fees.

"Payment institutions should fully respect customer's right to choose, and must not force customers to use the internet payment service they provide, and also must not stop customers using other Internet payment services provided by other institutions," said draft regulations posted on the People's Bank of China's website.

The move could shift the balance of power for China's online payment industry, where Alipay, the crown jewel of ecommerce king Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial Services Group, has long held the lion's share of the market.

If payment services from social networking and online entertainment firm Tencent, which backs ecommerce No 2 Inc, and search firm Baidu are offered on Alibaba's e-commerce sites, users could opt to use those. Alternatively, Alipay could cement its dominance if customers opt to use it on rival's platforms.

The central bank is now seeking external opinions on the draft proposals.

Alibaba and Tencent declined to provide comment. Baidu was not available for immediate comment.

Online payment is booming in China, boosted by the proliferation of hundreds of millions of smartphones. These handsets are now being used for everything from paying for taxis and meals at restaurants to buying goods at brick-and-mortar shops.