BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese government's propaganda app that recently became a big hit was developed by Alibaba, two people at the company told Reuters, at a time when the nation's technical firms are under global control over their ties to Beijing.
Chinese propaganda app Xuexi Qiangguo, literally translated as "Study to make China strong", is seen on a cell phone in this illustration taken February 18, 2019. REUTERS / Tingshu Wang / Illustration
"Xuexi Qiangguo" That literally translates as "Study to make China strong" and is a game on the government's propaganda theme to seek President Xi Jinpson's thoughts, Tik Tok and WeChat took over to become the county's most popular app in Apple's China App Store last week.
It was developed by a large unknown special project team at Alibaba, known as the "Y Projects Business Unit", which deals with development projects outside the company, the people said.
Alibaba in New York, refused to comment on whether the business unit had developed the app.
App's development of Alibaba, whose leader Jack Ma is a member of the Communist Party, is the last example of a Chinese technology company that collaborates with the government.
The country's propaganda department has released the app in front of next month's National People's Congress in Beijing, China's top annual parliamentary assembly.
The app, which contains short videos, government news and quizzes, was created by an Alibaba team. A user of Alibaba's own messaging app DingTalk can use their login information to log in to Xuexi Qiangguo. Alibaba said the app was built using DingTalk's software.
Staff at the Alibaba unit are responsible for developing and maintaining the app containing news, videos, live streaming and community comments, according to the sources and a job announced for Xuexi Qiangguo on Alibaba's career website.
The device does not have a website but is described in job ads on popular Chinese career area Zhipin.com as a strategic level project that is in a creative phase and offers many job opportunities.
At least part of the app's runaway popularity can be attributed to directives issued by local authorities and universities that require people in China's expansive party member network to download the app.
The app has been downloaded over 43.7 million times on Apple and Android devices since its launch in January, according to estimates from Beijing-based statistical consulting firm Qimai.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Alibaba is making money from the app or who started the development.
Last month, Alibaba, board vice president Joe Tsai, strikes the US treatment of Chinese tech company Huawei Technologies as "extremely unfair" and strongly criticizes what he called an attempt by the US government to curb China's rise through the war.
Huawei, the world's largest network equipment manufacturer, has been largely blocked from the United States and some other countries with suspicion that the products can be used as a spy pipeline. Huawei and China have denied the allegations.
However, major Chinese technology companies have collaborated extensively with governments in China on infrastructure, cloud computing and public security as part of the country's "Internet Plus" policy to improve traditional industries.
Cooperation with state media has also increased in recent years, among closer censorship laws requiring companies to toe the party leadership.
Tik Tok Creator Beijing ByteDance Technology Co and WeChat Creator Tencent Holdings Ltd is among some who have collaborated with government media stores through social media.
"The upside for these companies is that their record of collaboration can give them better space to obtain key licenses or opportunities," said Mark Natkin, CEO of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting. Adding these partnerships was Beijing's way of maintaining control over private companies.
"The disadvantage is that they can be drained to participate in projects that, on their own, financially or publicly, can avoid, but it can be unpleasant or unwise to refuse."
Reporting by Pei Li and Cate Cadell, Additional news from Shanghai newsroom; Editing Muralikumar Anantharaman