Jack Ma emerges for first time since Ant, Alibaba crackdown
January 20 2021 10:01 PM
Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group.
Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group.

By Lulu Yilun Chen and Coco Liu/ Bloomberg

Jack Ma resurfaced for the first time since China’s government began clamping down on his business empire nearly three months ago, appearing in a live-streamed video that sent Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s stock soaring but left plenty of unanswered questions about the billionaire’s fate.
Ma spoke briefly on Wednesday during an annual event he hosts to recognise rural teachers. In one video of the event circulated online, China’s most famous entrepreneur can be seen touring a primary school in his hometown of Hangzhou. Ma, who had stayed out of public view since regulators suspended the initial public offering of his fintech company Ant Group Co, told the teachers he’ll spend more time on philanthropy. He didn’t mention his run-ins with Beijing.
Ant confirmed the authenticity of the video, first posted on an online blog, but declined to comment further. Shares of Alibaba, the e-commerce giant co-founded by Ma that owns about a third of Ant, jumped 8.5% in Hong Kong and were up almost the same level in pre-market US trade.
Speculation about Ma’s whereabouts and his standing with the government had reached a fever pitch in recent weeks, after regulators ordered Ant to overhaul its business and began an antitrust investigation of Alibaba. Beijing’s crackdown followed an October speech by Ma in which he infamously rebuked “pawn shop” Chinese lenders, regulators who don’t get the internet, and the “old men” of the global banking community.
Ma’s comments on Wednesday struck a much different tone, echoing themes espoused by the ruling Communist Party. A former English schoolteacher, he spoke about the importance of reviving China’s countryside and narrowing income disparities by encouraging the return of younger talent to rural areas.
“Recently, my colleagues and I have been studying and thinking. We made a firmer resolution to devote ourselves to education philanthropy,” Ma said during the event. “Working hard for rural revitalisation and common prosperity is the responsibility for our generation of businessmen.”
While Ma’s exact whereabouts remain unclear, his emergence in a public forum may help quell some of the more dire rumours about his fate in a country where media coverage is often tightly choreographed. Among the earliest outlets to report on his video address was an online news outlet backed by the Zhejiang provincial government.
Ma had kept out of public view since regulators in November scuttled Ant’s $35bn IPO, tightened fintech regulations and launched a separate probe into Alibaba – all in a span of weeks.

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