Chinese Billionaire Jack Ma emerges for the first time since a crackdown on Ant and Alibaba

After months out of public view, billionaire Jack Ma has resurfaced to address teachers via Livestream Wednesday. His disappearance for months intensified speculation about the situation of the billionaire grappling with escalating scrutiny over his internet empire.

China’s most recognizable entrepreneur, Ma, addressed teachers during an annual event he hosts to recognize rural educators, according to people familiar with the matter. In a video of the event circulated online, he has talked about devoting more time to philanthropy. In an email, Ant confirmed the authenticity of the video, where it didn’t mention his recent run-ins with Beijing, which was first reported in a local blog. 

Shares spike after Jack Ma reappears
Image: Bloomberg

Ma, also co-founder of Alibaba, saw shares of the company gain more than 4% in Hong Kong. While it’s still unclear where Ma is, his emergence in a public forum might put an end to persistent rumours about his fate while Beijing works on investigating the online finance titan Ant Group Co. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.In a span of days during early November, calamity struck for Ma, as Chinese regulators torpedoed Ant’s $35 billion IPO, tightened fintech regulations, then ordered an overhaul of Ant while launching a separate antitrust probe into Alibaba.

“Recently, my colleagues and I have been studying and thinking. We made a firmer resolution to devote ourselves to education philanthropy,” Ma said in the video. “Working hard for rural revitalization and common prosperity is the responsibility for our generation of businessmen.”

Jack Ma Emerges for First Time Since Ant, Alibaba Crackdown
Jack Ma addressing teachers via livestream at an annual event Ma hosts to recognize rural educators, Jan. 20.
Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg
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The assault on Ma’s trillion-dollar corporate empire sums up a broader campaign to keep a check on the Chinese tech giants that Beijing now views as wielding too much control over the country. Beijing seems to have lost patience with the outsize power of its technology moguls after the flurry of actions against Ma’s twin companies. The power of the Chinese tech giants is now perceived as a threat to the political and financial stability President Xi Jinping prizes most.

According to a report by Bloomberg, “the (Chinese) government has increasingly sought to exert influence over the growing extent to which companies from Tencent Holdings Ltd. to ByteDance Ltd. amass data and direct commerce and media.” The nation’s top antitrust watchdog published new guidelines, the same month Ant called off its record IPO, warning tech giants against monopolistic practices ranging from forced exclusive arrangements to collusion on data. Investors have since sold off peers from Tencent to Meituan, while Ant and Alibaba have borne the brunt of that assault since November.

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