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Alibaba's Tsai says no plans to sell South China Morning Post - memo

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FILE PHOTO: Man walks past a logo of Alibaba Group at its office building in Beijing
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(Reuters) - Alibaba has no plans to sell Hong Kong's South China Morning Post (SCMP), the e-commerce giant's co-founder Joe Tsai was quoted as saying in a letter to SCMP staff seen by Reuters, following a Bloomberg News report that a Chinese government-owned firm was weighing up an offer to buy the paper.

SCMP's CEO Gary Liu said in the letter that Joe Tsai, Alibaba's co-founder and SCMP's chairman, had asked him to pass on a message that there were no plans for a change in ownership.

"There has never been any discussion about SCMP's ownership, and Alibaba has no plans for any change. There's no basis for any rumor or speculation," Liu quoted Tsai as saying.

Bloomberg reported, citing people familiar with the matter, that Bauhinia Culture (Hong Kong) Holdings Ltd was working on an offer that could bring the 118-year-old English language newspaper under its stable of media properties.

Bloomberg also said other state-backed entities could look to submit offers for SCMP, adding a deal may not happen.

The SCMP declined to comment on the internal letter. A spokesperson said that any reports suggesting Alibaba was considering a sale were "incorrect".

When Alibaba agreed to buy SCMP in 2015, it was considered the Chinese tech giant's most politically sensitive acquisition because changes in the editorial leaning of the SCMP are often seen as a measure for press freedom under Chinese rule.

Alibaba, whose founder Jack Ma came under fire for criticizing China's financial watchdogs last year, has been under pressure from the Chinese government to divest some of its media assets, including the SCMP, Bloomberg News reported in March.

(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang in Beijing, Chavi Mehta in Bengaluru and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Mark Potter)

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