E-commerce magnate and billionaire Jack Ma has been suspiciously absent after comments he made about the Chinese Government.
In a blunt speech in October last year at a Shanghai forum, Ma blasted China’s regulatory system, seemingly drawing the ire of President Xi Jinping.
In his speech, Ma said: “We shouldn’t use the way to manage a train station to regulate an airport. We cannot regulate the future with yesterday’s means.”
Regulators reacted to his comments, in which he also said the government was too ‘conservative’ and should focus on nurturing greater innovation, by suspending a $37 billion (£27bn) IPO listing of tech firm Alibaba’s Ant Group fintech arm, citing “major issues”.
The halting of his stock market listing will be a major setback for Ma after confirmation that it is the largest share offering in history.
Ma has seemingly vanished from public life, even failing to appear for his booking in November as a guest judge on an entrepreneurial game show called Africa’s Business Heroes, according to the Financial Times.
The Alibaba Group, of which Ma is co-founder and executive chair, has already been under the watchful eye of the Chinese Government, with Beijing supposedly concerned about the increasing monopoly that tech giants have in the country.
Chinese regulators announced an anti-monopoly investigation into the group in December, stepping up official efforts to tighten control over China s fast-growing tech industries.
The investigation also comes after Ma’s comments at the forum, with some speculating that the two are related.
And Ma should be careful if he intends to take on the Chinese Government. This is not the first time Beijing has cracked down on outspoken tech founders after Anbang insurance founder Wu Xiaohui was convicted of fraud and abuse of power in 2018 and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
In March last year, Chinese property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang fell out of the public eye after writing an essay calling Xi Jiping a “clown” and criticising China’s Covid response. Zhiqiang was sentenced to 18 years in jail for corruption in September 2020.
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Ma is an incredibly successful businessman and a major figure in China. With a net worth believed to be around $48bn, he once ranked 21st on the Forbes “World’s Most Powerful People” list.
He is also a prolific philanthropist, starting the Jack Ma Foundation in 2014 which aims to improve education, the environment and public health.
In July last year, Ma eyed new ventures in Hong Kong, with his fintech arm Ant Group announcing its intention to pursue dual public offerings in Shanghai.
In a statement, Ant Group said that the listings would “help the company accelerate its goal of digitising the service industry in China,” as well as position the company “to develop global markets with partners and expand investment in technology and innovation”.