China's Alibaba Takes Stake in Social Media Firm Sina Weibo

The e-commerce giant paid $586 million for 18 percent of the influential micro-blog service, known as "China's Twitter."

E-commerce group Alibaba, often described as China’s version of eBay, has acquired a minority stake in Sina Weibo, the wildly popular micro-blog service known in the West as China's Twitter.

Alibaba, founded by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma in 1999, paid $586 million for 18 percent of Sina Weibo and has the right to raise its stake to 30 percent at a later date, the two companies said in a statement.

Sina Weibo is the most influential of China’s many micro-blog platforms (known in the country as “Weibo”). The service has emerged as a major force for political accountability and “civilian journalism” over the past few years. A litany of corruption scandals involving Communist Party officials have broken on the service.

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Sina is known to self-censor its users' posts and occasionally takes direct instruction from government authorities on particular keywords and topics to excise from the service. Nevertheless, it is regarded as the freest and most lively space in the Chinese media landscape -- something akin to a virtual public square. In 2012, Sina said it had 46 million daily active users.

The partnership is expected to lead to greater integration of Alibaba’s marketing and e-commerce services into the Weibo experience.

“We are excited to partner with the largest e-commerce platform in China to develop social commerce. We believe e-commerce will play a vital role in building an eco-system around Weibo’s open platform,” said Charles Chao, chairman and CEO of Sina.

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Last May, Alibaba bought back roughly half of a 40 percent stake Yahoo was holding in the company. Yahoo’s remaining stake in Alibaba is viewed by analysts as one of its most valuable assets. Alibaba is valued at more than $55 billion; the company is believed to be preparing for an IPO later this year.

Said Ma: “We believe that the cooperation of our two robust platforms will bring unique and valuable services to Weibo users, as well as making the mobile Internet a core part of Alibaba’s strategy.”