Op Ed Special: Tie-up between Google and JD.com

In the business world, especially in technology, fascinating alliances are forming. Witness the tie-up announced Monday by Google and JD.com, the No. 2 Chinese e-commerce player. U.S. media predictably played the move as a bid by Google, which invested $550 million in NYSE-listed JD, to inch its way into a China market that has blocked it for nearly a decade. JD will join Google’s shopping platform, and Google will have done a solid for a Chinese company, presumably pleasing Beijing.

But look closer, and the deal speaks volumes to important alliances. JD’s major corporate shareholders include Tencent, which counts JD as an extension of its retail-technology strategy, and Walmart. The U.S. retailer, in turn, has been noodling on alliances with Google for the better part of a year.

The alliances at play are worthy of a 21st century Bismarck of global commerce. Google and Walmart are allied against the arch-foe of Western businesses everywhere, Amazon. Tencent and JD are allied against China’s dominant e-commerce player, Alibaba.

Could Google, prevented from selling ads in China, view Tencent as its entrée into the Chinese search market? Tencent operated a search engine for years but sold it to Sogou, a small competitor to Chinese search leader Baidu. Does this create an opening for Google?

It’s a tangled web. And an interesting one too—especially given the state of the political world, including the tenuous conditions of U.S.-China relations.