‘Where is Jack Ma?’ Alibaba billionaire’s low profile sparks speculation

Billionaire Chinese tech entrepreneur Jack Ma has vanished from public life after being rebuked by regulators in the Communist country.

The high-profile executive has not been seen in public since Chinese officials forced the cancellation of his finance firm Ant Group’s blockbuster float in November. The US$35bn ($48.8bn) listing would have been the largest in history.

Ma dropped out of the final episode of the television show Africa’s Business Heroes in which he was due to be a judge. Photographs of him have also been removed from the show’s website.

An Alibaba spokesman reportedly said that Ma’s absence from the show was due to a scheduling conflict.

Coverage of the billionaire’s low profile has sparked thousands of tweets asking “Where is Jack Ma?”.

One Twitter user said: “I hope Jack Ma is just laying low on a private island somewhere because if his government can cancel him, the average citizen has no chance.”

Ma’s last public appearance was when he made a speech in October in which he criticised China’s regulatory system and attacked banks for operating under a “pawnshop mentality”. The outburst reportedly led to authorities increasing their scrutiny of his business empire.

Despite the social media speculation over Ma’s whereabouts, investors in Ant and his e-commerce empire Alibaba are said to be relieved over the 56-year-old’s decision to pause his regular speeches and television appearances following the regulatory crackdown.

One insider likened Ma’s current period of silence to a similar incident in 2015 when the executive was forced to issue a public apology for “crazy” and “stupid” comments he made about Chinese e-commerce rival JD.com.

At the time, he took to Chinese social media site Weibo to make amends after calling JD.com a “tragedy”. Ma wrote: “I’m deeply sorry for the senseless troubles caused.”

Abishur Prakash of consultancy Center for Innovating the Future said: “Jack Ma is likely taking time away from the spotlight to gauge his options.

“With the Chinese government going after large technology firms, Ma is in a challenging situation. But remember, Jack Ma is more than just an individual. His name has become a brand that represents the ‘new China’, Now, with his firms under fire, silence may be the most strategic choice.”

An Alibaba spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Shares closed down 2.1 per cent in Hong Kong and were 3 per cent lower in New York.

– Telegraph Media Group

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