Bad publicity hurts.
The New York Stock Exchange listed e-commerce giant Alibaba lost $11 billion in market value on Wednesday as it stepped into a high-profile war of words with the national market regulator over alleged sales of substandard and fake commodities on its online shopping platform, taobao.com.
No wonder the country's No 1 e-commerce giant appears beside itself, and poised for a fight with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.
After releasing a satirical open letter to a SAIC official it believed responsible for the quality monitoring report, criticising him as a "dishonest referee", Alibaba announced it would lodge a formal complaint to the SAIC about the official's alleged disregard of due procedure.
This is a fight that should never have happened.
It has occurred because taobao.com finds its lowest commodity authenticity ranking "unfair", thus unacceptable. The culprit, it believes, is the survey's sampling procedure.
That is a serious allegation. Problematic sampling and subsequent conclusions are harmful not only to consumer enthusiasm for online shopping, but also to international confidence in the made-in-China label.
At the same time, it is an important reminder to the SAIC, and all others in law-enforcement roles, about the importance of fairness in their work. Many government institutions have found themselves in a constant crisis-control mode exactly because they ignored fairness.
It was good to see the SAIC publish a "white paper" on its dealings with Alibaba, which offers precious insight into the ongoing quarrel.
No matter whether the Alibaba-identified official has done anything improper, the SAIC will benefit from an honest account of what happened. And should taobao.com's concerns prove well-founded, the administration must make timely corrections and make sure its future alerts don't mislead.
And, furious as it is, taobao.com must not blind itself to the heavier burden on its shoulders for the quality of goods sold via its platform. It should stand by, rather than against, the SAIC, in a determined crusade against counterfeits. Or it must prove the SAIC allegation of "long-term existence" of "massive illicit business practices" is untrue.
Given their immense growth potential and huge popularity, we are anxious to see taobao.com and Alibaba demonstrate wholesome corporate citizenship.