Contrary to speculation, Chinese e-commerce billionaire and Alibaba founder Jack Ma is not missing but is “laying low” at present after telling off Chinese government regulators, CNBC reported on Tuesday.
“He is very likely in Hangzhou, where the headquarters of Alibaba is. We forget that he is no longer involved with the management of Alibaba. He is being less visible purposefully. And you can expect that that will continue to be the case for some time. He ran afoul of the government of the PRC (People’s Republic of China). He has pushed on that line a number of times in the past and been okay,” CNBC’s David Faber reported quoting sources.
“… the October 24 speech just went too far. And like a lot of people there, he understands when you have to lay down and roll over. He is not going to be putting himself in any position where will be speaking. He is not going to do that. It could be months. But it doesn’t mean that he is missing. He hasn’t been captured, he hasn’t been taken.
Ma, a former English teacher, founded Alibaba Group in 1999, when China had few internet users. Online payments service Alipay launched five years later, before regulators said such businesses would be allowed. Both long shots grew to dominate their industries. His latest gambit backfired after he called regulators too conservative in the October 24 speech and urged them to be more innovative. They halted the impending stock market debut of Ant Group, an online finance platform that grew out of Alipay. Alibaba’s share price sank, possibly costing Ma his status as China’s richest tycoon.
Since then, the normally voluble Ma has stayed out of the public eye, canceled a TV appearance and avoided social media. That has prompted a flurry of speculation about what might happen to Ma, China’s biggest global business celebrity and a symbol of its tech boom. Spokespeople for Alibaba and Ant haven’t respond to media questions about why Ma hasn’t appeared in public.
Ma, 56, stepped down as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019 but is part of the Alibaba Partnership, a 36-member group with the right to nominate a majority of its board of directors. He is one of the biggest shareholders. Ma irked regulators with the speech at a business conference in Shanghai attended by some of the regulators he was criticizing. Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan also was in the audience.
That clashed with the ruling party’s marathon campaign to reduce surging debt that has prompted fears about a possible financial crisis and led international rating agencies to cut Beijing’s credit rating for government borrowing.
On November 3, regulators suspended Ant’s market debut. It would have been 2020’s biggest, raising some $37 billion. Alibaba’s CEO later praised regulators in a possible attempt to repair relations. But Ma said nothing. The last posting on his Sina Weibo social media account is dated October 17.
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