Vanishing Act

Jack Ma reappears in a video clip amid high tech high drama

The Alibaba billionaire pops up on a video award ceremony for his foundation’s Rural Teacher Initiative

Jack is back or is he? The Alibaba Group founder made his first public appearance since October earlier this week when he spoke to a group of teachers via video.

Billionaire Ma has a cult-like status in China but had not been seen for nearly three months after falling foul of President Xi Jinping’s government.

Worth US$50.6 billion, he disappeared from sight after branding global banking rules an “old people’s club” during a major speech at the Bund Summit 2020 in Shanghai, taking a metaphorical machine gun to the regulatory elite.

Weeks later, the Chinese authorities effectively blew up a record US$37-billion listing of fintech giant Ant, an Alibaba affiliate.

“What his actual state is will be completely up to Beijing to reveal to us,” Leland Miller, the chief executive of research consultancy China Beige Book, said.

The facts:

  • Ma appeared in a 50-second video released by state-run Tianmu News.
  • He was wearing a navy pullover, spoke from a room with grey walls decked with a large painting and floral arrangements.
  • There was no visual indication of where the room was.
  • In December, Ma failed to appear in the final episode of the talent show, Africa’s Business Heroes.
  • Alibaba issued a statement, saying this was “due to a schedule conflict.”
  • The comments only increased speculation that he had angered the ruling Communist Party even though he is a card-carrying member.

What was said: A statement released by the Jack Ma Foundation confirmed that he took part in an award ceremony for the Rural Teacher Initiative. The program is close to Ma’s heart since he was a former English teacher before launching Alibaba.

Reaction to the news: “There is a lot more of the story still to see,” Miller, of consultancy China Beige Book, said.

China Factor comment: Ma’s appearance raises more questions than answers. Rumors persist that he has become too outspoken for the CCP after cashing in on the government’s state-controlled tech policy, which spawned the big three of Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent or the BAT grouping.

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