Alibaba Founder Jack Ma is reported to have disappeared from the public limelight two months ago raising speculations that he might be missing. Notable of all was his absentia from the final episode of his own talent show, Africa’s Business Heroes, which gives budding African entrepreneurs the chance to compete for a slice of USD1.5 million.
He was supposed to be one of the judges but instead an Alibaba executive officer replaced him. The communication from his office was that he had other engagements. He had never missed a single episode of that show and his absence from the final show left many wondering. His last public appearance was on October 24th where he is reported to have issued a controversial speech.
Poor Jack Ma. I mean, not really. Things can’t be all that bad if you’re the 25th richest person on the planet. But as far as people who are worth $51 billion go, “poor” Jack Ma. Jack was informally accused of a crime early last month, and suffice to say most people don’t think what he did was any semblance of criminal. During a speech in late October, Ma suggested China’s regulators might be stifling innovation in the country. So, his offense can be loosely described as “opening one’s mouth
Pressure on Alibaba has mounted on many fronts since Ma’s candid comments. In late November, the State Administration for Market Regulation warned that it was concerned by the pricing and data handling practices employed by Chinese tech giants . The same regulator followed that up by announcing fines for Alibaba (and Tencent’s e-book and TV production offshoot China Literature) for their conduct of corporate acquisitions. On Dec. 23, the SAMR announced a formal anti-trust probe of Alibaba.
Over the New Year period, authorities have suggested that Ant Group be shorn of its growth businesses, reducing it to a payments business like Visa or American Express, or broken up entirely.
Whether Ma has been detained, or is simply doing his best to avoid the limelight, his low profile reflects a growing interference by Beijing around the activities of private sector companies.
“[Ma’s] public rebuke is a warning that Beijing has lost patience with the outsize power of its technology moguls, increasingly perceived as a threat to the political and financial stability President Xi Jinping prizes most,” Bloomberg wrote in December when reporting the “crisis” in Ma’s empire.