The rise of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT) and their role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

21 December 2020

The Chinese digital technology giants, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT), dominate over their competitors in China across platforms that include e-commerce, digital entertainment, e-finance and artificial intelligence (AI). To understand BAT’s corporate power and their strategic role working with the government – in this case, their involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – this paper unveils the capabilities of these three oligopolies and discusses their international expansion in relation to the BRI. The BRI is being constructed on two layers, the physical and digital infrastructure, and the BAT are contributing to the latter. This paper examines the interrelations between BAT and the state through case studies, observing the tensions and potential contradictions arising from the reliance of the Chinese state on the BAT to build digital infrastructure, while the BAT seek to minimize direct state regulation for their data- driven business models.