China Unicom reportedly will receive an estimated CNY70 billion ($10.3 billion) in investment from internet giants Alibaba and Tencent as part of the country’s mixed-ownership reform efforts to inject private capital into state-run enterprises.
According to Reuters, Alibaba and Tencent will lead a group of investors, while Chinese search company Baidu pulled out of the funding round.
China Unicom, the second largest mobile operator in the mainland, is listed on the Shanghai exchange.
Sources told Reuters about CNY50 billion would be raised by issuing new shares, while the operator would sell part of its stake to the new investors.
The range of potential investors also includes other major internet firms in China and some state-backed institutions such as China Life Investment, Reuters said.
China Unicom announced in early April its parent company was reviewing its ownership structure in a move which could see it take on private investment. The move followed an October 2016 announcement by the operator stating it could be selected to be in the first pilot for the mixed-ownership reform programme, which Fitch Ratings explained could see some increase in management autonomy in addition to the capital and state ownership elements.
The Chinese government is eager to encourage private investment to improve the country’s telecoms infrastructure and fuel competition in the sector by reducing state ownership, but not control. In January the government said it was taking additional steps to open the telecoms industry to private investment in an attempt to improve internet services, which it sees as a key driver of economic growth.
According to a notice from the Central Committee and the State Council, the government will give “free rein to telecoms companies in the development of the internet”. The State Council is China’s Cabinet.