Alibaba founder Jack Ma makes his first appearance in two months after his public comments angered Beijing and led him to ‘disappear’
- Jack Ma, worth £42billion, re-emerged today in a video speech on state media
- Ma praised China’s poverty alleviation efforts and vowed to help rural teachers
- The tycoon vanished in November after criticising state banks and regulators
- Beijing then spiked an IPO of his group and launched an anti-monopoly probe
- Alibaba’s shares surged on Wednesday following billionaire Ma’s appearance
Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese internet behemoth Alibaba, made his first public appearance in over two months in an online video on Wednesday, ending weeks of speculation about his whereabouts.
Ma — one of China’s richest people with a fortune estimated at around £42billion ($58billion) — disappeared from the public eye in early November, when he was hauled in front of regulators for an October speech critical of China’s outdated financial system.
Shortly afterwards, the record-breaking £27billion ($37billion) IPO of the 56-year-old’s financial group Ant was spiked at the last minute by Chinese regulators in a shock move which some saw as retaliation for Ma’s outspokenness.
A screenshot of a video released by state-affiliated Tianmu News on Wednesday shows Jack Ma sitting in front of the camera while giving a congratulatory speech to rural teachers
Jack Ma (pictured in 2019) had virtually disappeared from the public eye since November, when he was hauled in front of regulators. He re-appeared in an online video on Wednesday
But a video clip of Ma giving a congratulatory speech to rural teachers as part of an annual awards ceremony organised by his charity was published on social media by Chinese news outlet Tianmu News Wednesday morning.
In the speech, Ma praised China’s poverty alleviation efforts, a central target of the Communist leadership, and vowed to dedicate more efforts towards helping rural teachers.
‘My colleagues and I… are even more determined to devote ourselves to education and public welfare,’ he said, according to a transcript of the full speech published by Tianmu News, an affiliation of state-run Zhejiang Daily Press Group based in Ma’s home province.
‘China has… entered a new stage of development, and is moving towards common prosperity,’ he added.
Jack Ma, one of China’s most successful entrepreneurs, criticised the country’s financial regulators and its state-owned banks in a speech late October. Ma is thought to have fallen foul of President Xi Jinping personally and had vanished from the public eye since early November
A spokesperson for the Jack Ma Foundation, his charitable arm, confirmed that Ma ‘participated in the online ceremony of the annual Rural Teacher Initiative event’.
Shares in Alibaba were up seven per cent in Hong Kong by early afternoon Wednesday.
Since the Ant IPO was quashed, Chinese regulators have launched an anti-monopoly probe into Alibaba.
Both Alibaba and Ant said they would cooperate with regulatory requests.
Bust a move: Jack Ma, China’s richest man, appeared in his company’s annual party as a mysterious dancer to entertain his 40,000 employees in Hangzhou, China, in September 2017
Ma, a charismatic former-teacher-turned-internet-entrepreneur, retired as chairman of Alibaba in 2019 but has long attracted attention for his outspokenness and flamboyant antics, performing as a rockstar at company conferences.
The continued squeeze on one of China’s most influential companies is the latest sign that the leadership is ready to deflate the ambitions of big tech firms in a runaway internet sector.
Beijing has a history of disappearing, investigating and imprisoning financial tycoons who do not toe the party line.
Last year, outspoken real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang was jailed for 18 years on alleged corruption charges, months after penning an essay critical of the Communist Party.
Who is Jack Ma?
Founder and Chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma is seen at the ‘Ma Yun Rural Teachers and Headmasters Prize’ on January 13th, 2019 in Sanya, China
Jack Ma was a cash-strapped Chinese entrepreneur and former English teacher when he convinced friends to give him £45,000 ($60,000) to start a Chinese e-commerce firm called Alibaba in 1999.
Two decades later, Alibaba is an internet juggernaut, and Ma is among the world’s richest men.
Alibaba Group includes Tmall.com for business-to-consumer transactions and Taobao, China’s most popular online consumer marketplace with hundreds of millions of products and services listed.
The company has now become a player in online payments and films. It has also been pouring investment into various ventures, including bricks-and-mortar retail, cloud computing, meal delivery and advertising.
It owns a stake in China’s hugely popular Twitter-like Weibo platform, and in 2015 it bought the South China Morning Post newspaper.
Ma, whose Chinese name is Ma Yun (马云), has often described himself as something on an accidental entrepreneur, giving up his university teaching for the hustle of trade after discovering the internet.
Seeing an opportunity for small businesses to buy and sell their goods online, he started Alibaba, initially running the company out of his apartment in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where the company’s headquarters remains.
He has inspired strong devotion among his employees and users, drawing comparisons with late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs – although he practices a more open management style.
He is one of the most colourful of China’s growing cop of billionaires, performing a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine at the company’s 18th anniversary celebration in 2017, and starring in his own kung fu short film.
The tycoon officially retired as Alibaba’s chairman in September 2019 aged 55 to devote his time to philanthropy focused on education.
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