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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Alibaba, China's e-commerce behemoth, is making new inroads in the U.S. and Canada, adding its mobile payment system to thousands of stores — convenience, drug stores and other shops — frequented by Americans of all income levels.

What's happening: Alipay insists that it is not after American customers, instead seeking to serve Chinese tourists, students and business people who come in droves to North America every year.

  • But while its partnerships — with chains like 7-11 and Walgreens — may serve a lot of Chinese visitors, these stores' main clientele is ordinary locals, who now will become acquainted with the Alipay name.

The big picture: Alibaba is enticing U.S. businesses with Alipay, which allows users to pay by scanning a QR code on the app. It has more than 700 million Chinese users. It is telling U.S. companies that if they add the system, they'll get a big piece of the tens of billions dollars Chinese nationals spend in the U.S. every year.

Alipay already has 4 million U.S. users and works with luxury brands like Lacoste and Rebecca Minkoff, and can be used at duty-free shops and Vegas hotels — places frequented by Chinese tourists.

But the move this week into 7,000 Walgreens, and earlier into 7-Eleven in Canada, is part of a separate strategy, says Humphrey Ho, managing director of the Hylink Group. "The real play here is for the students, the new immigrants, and the people here to work for just a few years," Ho says.

  • There's a massive market of Chinese nationals who are in the U.S. longer than tourists, but would still like to use Alipay instead of applying for a credit card.

My thought bubble: Though it's possible that Alibaba could follow Japan's strategy from the 1960s and 1970s and break open the American market, it seems to me that Alipay's expansion will be limited to Chinese nationals for the foreseeable future.

  • As a Walgreens shopper, I'm not sure just seeing that Alipay is an option would make me want to use it. Americans love their credit cards way too much.
  • Plus, it's unlikely that Alibaba will ever get approval from the U.S. to take on the role of a bank and dole out mobile wallets. The privacy concerns are too big, Ho says.

Go deeper

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. fears Iran won’t scale back to 2015 nuclear deal

Officials gather in Vienna on Sept. 29 for the first day of renewed nuclear talks with Iran. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

U.S. officials have extremely low expectations as world powers resume negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, believing the Iranians aren't yet ready to negotiate seriously, Axios is told.

Driving the news: Senior officials in the U.S. intelligence community have assessed the new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, thinks of his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, as a weak accommodationist who negotiated a bad deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.