Jack Ma, the daring, charismatic Chinese billionaire, has been uncharacteristically absent from the public for more than two months but the vanishing act is probably more strategic than worrisome.
Sources from his e-commerce giant, Alibaba, told FOX Business that the company’s founder and largest shareholder is “not missing or detained” but “laying low” since he criticized Chinese financial regulators on Oct. 24, seemingly prompting the world’s largest initial public offering of his financial business, Ant Group, on its eve. That caused Alibaba’s stock to plummet 26% over two months.
CNBC said Ma is likely in Hangzhou, Alibaba’s home base, but intentionally being quiet. Reports that he chose to be quiet seemed to help Alibaba stock rebound by 5% during Monday afternoon trading.
“I think there’s one overall message that the party is really sending, and that is that tech entrepreneurs may be the most glamorous, the most publicly favorable face that China is showing to the world,” Oxford University modern China politics professor Rana Mitter told CNN. “But there is no one individual, no one company bigger than the Chinese Communist Party.”
If Ma was fearing more than a slap on the wrist for saying China had been too conservative and “kills innovation,” there is precedent for that feeling. Ma has become a celebrity, even singing rock songs in a leather jacket and sunglasses at annual Alibaba meetings. Another celebrity, actress Fan Bingbing, disappeared in a similar fashion in 2018 for about a year because of a tax evasion scandal. Real estate tycoon Ren Zhigiang was missing for several months last year and eventually jailed for 18 years on corruption charges after he criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping for the country’s coronavirus handling.
Beijing launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba two weeks ago for monopoly and over-leverage.
There is room for one dominant personality in China—President Xi Jinping.