A few 'sightings' aside, Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma hasn't been seen in nine months

@forbes, June 25, 2021

Imagine if one of Australia’s top business figures – say, retail tycoon Gerry Harvey, mega developer Harry Triguboff or mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest – was summoned to Canberra to see a furious Scott Morrison after criticising one of his key policies.

Then, picture a reality where that extremely prominent, wealthy and powerful figure was essentially never seen again, and their corporate assets were restricted, broken up and siphoned off, or shut down entirely.

Just think about the uproar if a few pride-wounding words cost literally hundreds of billions of dollars.

While it sounds like something out of a dystopian novel, that exact scenario played out in China last year with the founder of one of the planet’s biggest companies.

And it took just a few minutes for Jack Ma’s world to come crashing down around him.

Less than 12 months ago, the tech pioneer was the richest man in China whose latest venture was about to launch an initial public offering worth a staggering US$37 billion.

The Ant Group, the world’s largest fintech company, was a spin-off of his hugely Alibaba Group – the Amazon of China – which boasted a combined value of more than US$1 trillion.

But just one speech in Shanghai to a group of the country’s top business leaders in October changed all of that.

The Ant Group’s IPO was cancelled. His companies have been hit with hefty penalties and forced to restructure, with new ‘partners’ instituted at senior levels by the government and a chilling process of dismantling under way.

Ma vanished from public life and speculation mounted that he was either under house arrest, hiding abroad or dead.

@forbes, June 25, 2021

Jack Ma performs on the stage during Alibaba's 20th anniversary gala at Hangzhou Olympic Centre Stadium on September 10, 2019. Photo / Getty Images

Several billion dollars was wiped from his personal wealth.

There have been just a handful of bizarre sightings in the nine months since his fateful words at an otherwise unremarkable conference.

Forbes writer George Calhoun counted them – six apparent appearances of Ma in nine months that are all “suspiciously vague and indirect”.

In China, those seemingly choreographed appearances have been gleefully portrayed as ‘situation normal’ by the state-controlled media.

Here's my follow-up piece on Jack Ma.

What Really Happened To Jack Ma? via @forbes https://t.co/AGOsA1CGPj

— George Calhoun (@GeoCalhoun520) June 25, 2021

Beyond Beijing’s iron curtain, they’re cause for growing concern.

“Jack Ma hasn’t been seen since [October 24] – if by ‘seen’ we mean being actually observed, and verifiably photographed, in public, and at liberty,” Calhoun wrote.

“We know more about the whereabouts and the condition of Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s prize prisoner, than we do about Jack Ma.”

A stunning and swift fall from grace

Before October 24 last year, Ma was riding high.

The Ant Group, a financial services offshoot of Alibaba that included the lucrative and increasingly popular digital payment system Alipay, was about to list.

He was due to appear in his own reality television show, a kind of Shark Tank-style search for future entrepreneurs.

Ma’s rank as China’s richest man was to be solidified with an enormous boost to his personal wealth.

Then, at a summit for business leaders, he made the fatal mistake of criticising the Chinese Community Party, calling out regulators for stifling innovation.

“We shouldn’t use the way to manage a train station to regulate an airport,” Ma told the high-profile gathering. “We cannot regulate the future with yesterday’s means.”

The problem was as much with his criticism as it was with the timing of it – hot on the heels of pro-regulation remarks by Wang Qishan, who is President Xi Jinping’s most trusted confidant.

Social media lit up. Ma’s very public rebuke of Beijing went viral. The fury from the highest levels of the Chinese Community Party was evident.

@forbes, June 25, 2021

The logo for Alibaba Group is seen at the company's headquarters in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang Province. Photo / AP

He was called to Beijing for a meeting, reportedly at the demand of President Xi, and a day later it was announced the Ant Group IPO was off.

Ma disappeared.

The man found by public polling to be the most famous person in China, whose personal business success was on par with the world’s biggest companies, with a huge personal wealth, was struck down by the powers that be in one fell swoop.

A 'hostage video' and staged appearances

The first time Ma was seen again after being summoned to Beijing last October was in January this year in an eerie 48-second video clip, shot and released by the Chinese government.

In it, Ma announces that he’s devoting himself to charity, and in particular to the country’s overwhelmingly poor rural regions.

“My colleagues and I have been learning and thinking, and we have become more determined to devote ourselves to education and public welfare,” he says in it.

Onlookers said it resembled a “hostage video” – particularly the declaration about being re-educated.

That three-month period of reflection had led him to conclude that tech billionaires such as himself should spend their time boosting “rural revitalisation and common prosperity”.

Both of those goals are major prongs of President Xi’s future vision for China.

“Starting last summer, we began to hear a lot more about what Xi’s vision is for private entrepreneurs and how they fit within the objective of the great rejuvenation that he’s pushing,” Bill Bishop, author of the China newsletter Sinocism, told The Guardian.

“Xi has brought up patriotic entrepreneurs from the last century who made a lot of money and then did a lot for the country and a lot for the party. The politically savvy business folks see that as a shifting political wind that they have to be more sensitive to.”

Forbes Magazine in China just named Ma as the single biggest charity donor in the country, with philanthropic donations totalling US$500 million over the past 12 months.

That’s a clear sign Ma is doing as he’s told. Whether it grants him greater forms of freedom in return remains to be seen.

The five other reported sightings of Ma are all unverified or undocumented, Calhoun wrote, adding, “What we don’t know is just what has happened to the man himself. None of the sightings shed any real light on his fate, beyond establishing the fact that he is probably still alive.”

Beijing's brutal punishments

Alibaba is still a massive company whose services are an entrenched part of everyday life in China, but it has paid a hefty price for Ma’s actions.

Its market capitalisation has slid sharply from US$840 billion just before Ma’s speech to $570 billion as of the end of June.

Earlier this year, it was stung with a US$2.8 billion fine for a breach of antitrust regulations.

Ma’s involvement in the company is almost non-existent, analysts say, and authorities are overseeing a process of “rectifying” its operations.

“Dismantled, reassembled, and parcelled out to government-run competitors,” Calhoun wrote of the process. “There is value destruction on a huge scale. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been subtracted from the public market value of Alibaba alone.”

The Ant Group has been scaled down, broken up and siphoned off.

Across Ma’s former empire are now littered ‘business partners’ who are President Xi loyalists, there to enforce the Community Party’s broader vision, according to reports.

Ma, a keen performer who loved to don wigs and costumes for performances at employee retreats, was replaced on his own blockbuster reality TV show.

Even Hupan, a business college founded four years ago by Ma, which he personally led as a passion project, is being wound up.

As for exactly where he is now and what he’s doing, or rather allowed to do, no one really knows.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

UK may review its new COVID travel policy for India: Sources

(Representative image) The UK’s decision to treat fully vaccinated people arriving from India as ‘unvaccinated’, may be reviewed. Sources within the government told Moneycontrol that the matter will have to be reconsidered ... Read more »

Crude oil price tumbles 2% on selloff in commodity and equities; Brent trades below $75/bbl

Crude oil prices slid below Rs 5,200 per barrel on September 20 on appreciating dollar, the selloff in equity markets and commodities, production normalising in the Gulf of Mexico, and ... Read more »

India to resume exports of surplus COVID-19 vaccines from October under Vaccine Maitri programme

Representative image. The Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya on September 20 said the government will resume exports of COVID-19 vaccine under the Vaccine Maitri initiative from ... Read more »

Skoda Kushaq bookings cross 10,000 units, new features added

Cumulative bookings for the Skoda Kushaq have crossed 10,000 units since its launch in late June making the SUV one of the most successful models from the Czech brand in ... Read more »

The Danish way: World-famous restaurant Noma finally wins its third Michelin star

Despite winning the world’s best restaurant award a mind-boggling four times, the third Michelin star was seemingly out of reach for Copenhagen restaurant Noma – until recently. Copenhagen’s Noma could ... Read more »

World shares at one-month low, default fears stalk China Evergrande

Source: Reuters World shares skidded and the dollar firmed on Monday ahead of a week packed with global central bank meetings, while debt troubles at property group China Evergrande dragged ... Read more »

Dow futures tumble more than 600 points as September slide intensifies

The Dow has so far turned in three straight weeks of losses for the first time since September 2020. Read more »

CVS Health to hire 25,000 ahead of flu season, COVID-19 booster roll out

CVS Health Corp said on Monday it would fill as many as 25,000 clinical and retail jobs ahead of the flu season and as the United States prepares to administer ... Read more »

PNB earns Rs 170 crore in FY21 by levying charges on non-maintenance of minimum balance: RTI

State-owned Punjab National Bank (PNB) collected nearly Rs 170 crore by levying charges on customers for not maintaining the required minimum balance in their accounts during 2020-21, according to RTI ... Read more »

More permanent jobs and 100 euros extra for all workers, FNV demands

Not only a pay rise, but also “a lot more” permanent jobs. That is the FNV trade union’s commitment to next year’s collective labor agreement negotiations. FNV wants an end ... Read more »

Gas prices in Europe surpass $900 per 1,000 cubic meters

Later, the price of October futures on the TTF hub in the Netherlands dropped to $881 per 1,000 cubic meters Read more »

Armenia, Russia achieve positive trade turnover dynamics, says ministry

Russian Deputy Economic Development Minister Dmitry Volvach noted that Russian deliveries of fuel and energy goods, transport vehicles, food, agricultural stock, chemical products to Armenia and supplies from Armenia to Russia had gone up Read more »

Energy crisis: 'No interruption' to supplies - Octopus Energy CEO

Octopus Energy boss Greg Jackson reassured consumers there would be no interruption to energy supplies amid the current crisis and said the price cap would help protect people if suppliers go bust. Read more »

Gainers & Losers: 10 stocks that moved most on September 20

Benchmark indices ended lower for the second consecutive session on September 20 dragged by the metal and banking names. At close, the Sensex was down 524.96 points or 0.89% at ... Read more »

Markolines Traffic Controls IPO: Offer subscribed 2 times on the final day

Highway operations and maintenance services provider Markolines Traffic Controls’ initial public offering (IPO) was subscribed two times on September 20, the final day of bidding. Investors bid for 1,05,31,200 equity ... Read more »

Moneycontrol Pro Panorama | Government needs to iron out GST wrinkles

FM Nirmala SItharaman Dear Reader, The Panorama newsletter is sent to Moneycontrol Pro subscribers on market days. It offers easy access to stories published on Moneycontrol Pro and gives a ... Read more »

Taking Stock: Sensex, Nifty end lower on weak global cues; metals worst hit

Indian benchmark indices flashed red for the second consecutive session on September 20, pulled down by the metal stocks as investors remained cautious ahead of multiple central bank meetings scheduled ... Read more »

Yes Bank partners Visa to issue line of nine credit card variants

Yes Bank (File image) Yes Bank has announced its partnership with Visa as a payment processor to offer its customers credit cards and enhance payments efficiency. The partnership has nine ... Read more »

Silver prices flat at Rs 60,000/kg after last week selloff; bias remains weak

Silver Silver prices were steady near Rs 60,000 a kg on September 20 on dollar uptick, subdued gold and weakness in industrial metals. The precious metal had tanked 5.66 percent ... Read more »

CAIT demands CBI inquiry into Amazon bribery allegation

The investigation is being done following a whistleblower complaint alleging that money paid for legal fees was funneled into bribes by Amazon’s legal representatives. The Confederation of All India Traders ... Read more »

Rupee slumps 26 paise to close at 73.74 against US dollar

Representative image The Indian rupee fell by 26 paise to close at 73.74 (provisional) against the US dollar on Monday, tracking a strong American currency in the overseas market and ... Read more »

PayPal completes rollout of cryptocurrency offering in UK

The roll-out in UK is the first international expansion of PayPal’s cryptocurrencies services outside of the United States. (Source: Reuters) Nearly a month after PayPal announced that it will expand ... Read more »

Mainland Chinese firms likely to need another 4 million sq ft in office space in Hong Kong, Colliers says

Mainland Chinese companies are likely to require an additional 4 million sq ft of office space in Hong Kong by 2025, according to Colliers. Estimates based on a report published ... Read more »

Small energy suppliers lambast regulator Ofgem over industry crisis

Fifteen suppliers, which on Monday signed a letter to the prime minister, accuse Ofgem of being “unfit” to regulate the sector amid expectations of further imminent collapses, Sky News can reveal. Read more »

These underdog cryptocurrencies surged upto 450% in last 24 hours

While popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have kept the limelight even the market is in red. However, some underdog tokens have been the biggest gainers in the last 24 ... Read more »

Energy boss: It's 'crunch time' for many small providers

Read more »

Energy price crisis: What can I do to shield my family from surging bills?

The price of energy is going through the roof as winter looms, with price comparison sites even admitting the industry regulator's cap on standard variable tariffs could currently offer the best shelter for those not already protected through fixed-price contracts. Read more »

Take a look at how Top 5 cryptocurrencies have performed since April

Cardano (Representative image) Cryptocurrencies continue to be volatile, with wild swings amid rising popularity and regulatory uncertainty in India. Here’s how the five top cryptocurrencies have performed in the last five-and-a-half ... Read more »

Looneis FNV: all employees €100 per month

Traditionally, FNV announces the commitment for the upcoming collective labor agreement negotiations one day before Budget Day. This year it introduced a wage requirement of 5% in sectors where things ... Read more »

Expo 2020 Will Set Up A Tough Benchmark To Future Global Shows

As curtains go up in Dubai for the much-awaited Expo 2020 in a few days, the mega event, indisputably, would set a new model and benchmark for other global events ... Read more »

China debt concerns mounting as Beijing shifts attention to hidden local government financing

Concerns are mounting over how local governments in China will pay back so-called hidden debts raised through self-issued bonds, especially as Beijing is increasing controls to prevent a meltdown in ... Read more »

America's Cup defence campaign: Mark Dunphy sees $40m shortfall part filled by more Government cash

Mark Dunphy has promised to put up $20 million of his own money to keep the next America’s Cup in New Zealand, but still sees a $40m shortfall which may ... Read more »

France's high-speed trains get an eco-makeover

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday unveiled a mock-up of the next generation of greener, super-high-speed trains, known in France as TGVs — four decades after the first TGV was ... Read more »

Focus: NZ Delta outbreak | Level 4 has been a 'nightmare' for small businesses

Auckland small businesses like Dough Boys bakery can't wait for the drop down alert levels. Video / NZ Herald Read more »

Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Business groups welcome Level 3 in Auckland

Business leaders are welcoming news that Auckland will drop down an alert level midnight Tuesday, although firms want to see more flexibility and continued financial support. “It will be a ... Read more »

Thailand lifts debt-to-GDP cap to 70% to aid economy rebuild

Finance Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith (Parliament photo) Thailand will raise its public debt ceiling to accommodate higher borrowing and spending to help support the economic recovery from the pandemic. The limit ... Read more »

Why did the Sansera Engineering IPO get strong subscription from QIBs?

Sansera Engineering’s initial public offering during September 14-16 was subscribed 11.47 times, with the portion reserved for qualified institutional buyers subscribed 26.47 times. The portion set aside for non-institutional investors ... Read more »

Bigbloc Construction share price rises 6% on partnership with SCG International Corporation

Bigbloc Construction share price rose over 6 percent intraday on September 20 after the company partnered with SCG International Corporation. Bigbloc Construction and SCG International Corporation announced the signing of ... Read more »