Alibaba and Tencent are showing how companies can get around Beijing's crackdown on foreign deals

Key Points
  • Chinese delivery firm 58 Suyun is combining with Hong Kong logistics company GoGoVan
  • Both of those companies are backed by Chinese tech giant Alibaba, and Tencent has invested in 58 Suyun's parent company
  • The merger shows how domestic Chinese companies are still able to make some overseas deals work

Alibaba and Tencent are showing how companies can get around Beijing's massive crackdown on foreign deals.

The firms, among China's most important tech giants, are overseeing the merger of two companies they back. Chinese delivery firm 58 Suyun is combining with Hong Kong logistics company GoGoVan — both have raised funds from Alibaba, and Tencent backs New York-listed, the parent company of 58 Suyun.

Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

What's important to note with the all-stock deal, which pools GoGoVan's business in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia with 58 Suyun's operations in China, is that it shows that not all outbound deal activity is drying up amid Beijing's efforts to restrict foreign investment.

"Small and mid-cap deals are still thriving," said Chunshek Chan, global head of mergers and acquisitions and financial sponsors research at Dealogic.

So far this year, about 70 percent of China's outbound deals have been valued at $1 billion or less, according to Dealogic data. Experts said they expect the trend of smaller acquisitions to continue.

That's because with larger acquisitions, "you start getting questions on national security ... and overall stability and growth of the Chinese economy, so there's a lot more scrutiny over large, marquee deals," said Benjamin Cavender, principal at consulting firm China Market Research.

But "when you're talking about small, medium enterprises, there's a little less pressure — the government doesn't see that as having any way to shape the economy, or cause issues with policy," he said.

Since late last year, Beijing has been cracking down on overseas investment as wads of cash flew out of the country, adding downward pressure to an already depreciating yuan. The government also recently issued rules on the kind of acquisitions that would be banned, restricted, and encouraged. Ones that align with Beijing's strategic and economic priorities will get the green light, while others in sectors like sports and entertainment will be frowned upon as Beijing considers them frivolous.

But, experts say, the small deals that are going through are tied to a fundamental truth: China has a growing middle class that is starting to get more discerning in terms of what it wants, and foreign deals can help meet that demand by bringing more products and services into the mainland.

"Chinese companies are still trying to answer the question of 'How are we going to satisfy the demands of the growing Chinese middle class when they want more consumer names and products that are coming from the West?'" Chan said.

Experts say that at the end of the day, Beijing is still going to be watching for anything that doesn't align with a company's core business, as the acquirer may not have the expertise to make the merger work.

And anything with an unusual deal structure, or one that involves a lot of debt, is expected to still be scrutinized. That's because such agreements could increase risk to the overall financial system, given that they're typically financed by China's major state-owned banks.

The merger of 58 Suyun and GoGoVan will create Asia's largest online logistics platform. Company executives said they have big plans to eventually beat the likes of DHL and FedEx.