Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce and cloud company, has not been seen in public for two months, fuelling speculation that communist party authorities have “disappeared” him.
Worth an estimated $48.2 billion, Ma infuriated leaders during an Oct. 24 speech he gave in Shanghai at the Bund Summit when he suggested China needed to reform its financial system, Time reported.
The summit was billed as “an open, pragmatic and internationally influential financial high-end communication platform,” but apparently it just couldn’t.
In the speech, Ma said that Chinese regulators stifled innovation and Chinese banks suffered from a “pawnshop mentality,” relying on a system of “pledges and collateral” like the informal lenders of the past.
On Nov. 2, Chinese authorities called Ma in for questioning. The next day, his previously-approved record-breaking $37 billion IPO was cancelled that was supposed to take Ant Financial, Alibaba’s fintech arm, public. By late December, regulators had required Ant Group to restructure, imposing new anti-monopoly rules and cutting billions off its valuation.
On Friday, The Financial Times reported that Ma had been replaced as a judge in the final episode of “Africa’s Business Heroes,” a game show that gives African entrepreneurs the chance to compete for a $1.5 million prize. Ma’s photos were taken off the show’s website and he was removed from a promotional video for the show.
Twitter, which is banned in China, was full of news of Ma’s absence from public view. Not so on social media in mainland China, where sensitive topics are censored, Reuters reported.
Ma’s whereabouts are a mystery, India Today reported. An Alibaba spokesperson told the Financial Times that Ma was left off the final episode of the show due to a “schedule conflict”.
“You’re allowed and encouraged to criticize the US government. Not so in China,” Nick Walker tweeted.
“In the usa, we don’t disappear billionaires, we give them tax breaks and let them have more power than the government. both ways suck,” another tweeted.
Some on Twitter wondered how a man as wealthy as Jack Ma couldn’t stand up to the Chinese government. “With the amount of money he has you would think he would have systems in place to protect him from the chinese state.”
“It’s always difficult for government-controlled economies to dabble in capitalism,” Gregory Paul tweeted. “It’s not an organic change, and it tends to produce an oligarch class of people who rise too high and get chopped down by the government. Same thing happened in Russia, Cuba, Venezuela.”
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Zelda Fitzgerald took a longer view, tweeting, “The CCP has seen how American corporatocracy has more power than our government – they’ll do anything so that doesn’t happen to them.”
If Ma has fallen from favor, he’s fallen a long way, Charlie Campbell reported for Time. “Being something of a global business celebrity, he was tacitly entrusted by the Chinese Communist Party to project a modern, go-ahead image for the country’s entrepreneurs,” Campbell wrote.
A former school teacher, Ma grew Alibaba from a company with 20 employees started in his apartment in 1999 to a tech giant that made $71.985 billion in revenue in the fiscal year ending Mar. 31, 2020.
Forbes ranked Ma China’s wealthiest person on its 2020 rich list, and No. 17 among the world’s richest billionaires.