Jack Ma, the founder of Chinese e-commerce group Alibaba, has made his first public appearance since October, bringing almost three months of intense speculation about his possible whereabouts to a close.
In a new video clip published online on Jan. 20, Ma was reportedly shown visiting a school rebuilt by his foundation — a glimpse that was enough to spur Alibaba’s Hong Kong-traded shares to rise by almost 9%.
Investors’ momentary reassurance follows months of inscrutable actions from the Chinese state to reassert control over one of the country’s wealthiest figures, whose conglomerate provides over 70% of China’s citizens with fintech services through AliPay.
A representative for the charitable Jack Ma Foundation confirmed to reporters that Ma had “participated in the online ceremony of the annual Rural Teacher initiative event on January 20.” In the video, Ma is said to have pledged his commitment to working with his colleagues to improve education and public welfare.
Ant Group has, over these months, come under fire for its allegedly monopolistic overreach and fallen prey to the Chinese Communist Party politburo’s intent to prevent a “disorderly expansion of capital” in the national economy. The conglomerate’s present difficulties date back to late October, the last time Ma was seen in public, when he delivered a speech that was sharply critical of both regulators and China’s banking sector.
The speech was delivered on the eve of Ant Group’s planned initial public offering, which had been expected to draw in $37 billion at a company valuation of well over $300 billion.
Ma’s ill-received speech sparked the Chinese authorities to step up their moves to rein in the corporate giant, pulling the plug on its plans to go public and then launching an antitrust probe into Alibaba — while keeping media coverage of the investigation tightly under control. There have been unverified suggestions that Chinese President Xi Jinping had himself been behind the decision to halt Ant’s initial public offering.
Uncertainty as to the eventual outcome of ongoing regulatory and state intervention into Ma’s business persists, notwithstanding the entrepreneur’s brief resurfacing earlier today.
Antitrust regulators have meanwhile been stepping up their efforts to reassert control over tech behemoths such as Facebook in the United States, where the outgrowth of tech empires has similarly raised increasing concern at a federal level.