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In Ganyu, China: Busy on Alibaba Singles Day last November. Photo: VCG / Getty

Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce gargantuan, says it isn't in a race with Amazon for U.S. customers, but that it is eager to take U.S. merchandise to its 550 million customers in China.

Why it matters: American politicians and technologists are unusually sensitive to what's often perceived as China horning in on American customers, markets and tech. But they may be missing a different game — using an elaborately built system, Alibaba is linking U.S. merchants directly to millions of Chinese customers, bypassing Amazon and other American platforms as an essential way-station to the Chinese market.

Brion Tingler, an Alibaba spokesman in the U.S., said the company was selling 7,000 U.S. brands in China as of last year, led by Apple, but wants more. "We have no designs on the U.S. consumer but we want to help U.S. companies sell to the Chinese consumer," Tingler tells Axios.

  • Alibaba's system, called Gateway, introduces U.S.-based merchants, big and small, to the Chinese market. Independent agents linked to Alibaba do the actual merchandising, payments and logistics — shipping sold goods to China.
  • In one selling method, U.S. merchants can be connected into livestream shows hosted on the Alibaba platform. Chinese viewers can click and buy the products immediately. "At the end of the show, you know how many items you've sold," Tingler said. The agent then takes care of shipping it directly to the customer for you, he said.
  • "We believe Chinese consumers want smaller niche brands," Tingler said.

Go deeper

Top economic regulators stressed by vacancies

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The boom times are all around us (from corporate deal sprees to the breakneck rise of cryptocurrency) — and the agencies in charge are stretched thin trying to police it.

Why it matters: Overwhelmed staff and a slew of vacant posts could set back President Biden's big regulatory agenda.

GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley announces run for re-election

Photo: Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the longest-serving Senate Republican, announced on Friday that he's running for re-election in 2022.

Why it matters: The GOP is looking to regain control of both chambers of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. Several Republicans had urged the 88-year-old senator to run to avoid another retirement after five incumbent senators said they wouldn't seek re-election.

China deems all cryptocurrency transactions illegal

A person walking past China's central bank in Beijing in August 2007. Photo: Teh Eng Koon/AFP via Getty Images

China's central bank declared on Friday that all cryptocurrencies are illegal, banning crypto-related transactions and cryptocurrency mining, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: China's government is now following through with its goal of cracking down on unofficial virtual currencies, which it has said are a financial, social and national security risk and a contributor to global warming.