Shanghai/Beijing, Jan 20 (efe-epa).- The billionaire founder of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba reappeared on Wednesday in a virtual meeting with rural teachers after a months-long absence from the public eye, during which time the relationship between Beijing and his business group has worsened.
In the video, posted on the website of Tianmu News from his native province of Zhejiang, Jack Ma greets 100 rural teachers from the Asian country in an online ceremony of an annual event organized by the Jack Ma Foundation, and tells them that “we’ll meet again when the [COVID-19] epidemic is over!”
Although he makes no mention of his whereabouts in his speech, Ma does say that “during the last six months” – which includes the time he has been away from the spotlight – he has remained active by taking part in the process of selecting teachers for the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award he presented.
China’s wealthiest entrepreneur had not been seen in public since October 2020.
His absence has fueled speculation in foreign media outlets, some of which have gone as far as to use the term “disappeared.”
Chinese media has maintained a coordinated silence on the issue, coinciding with reports from Beijing of an alleged order not to report on a recent antitrust probe against Alibaba.
Alarm bells started to ring in November when Ma, who has an estimated wealth of $65.6 billion, failed to appear in his usual role as a judge on TV talent series Africa Business Heroes, which he helped found.
He was replaced by another Alibaba director.
His absence from the talent show came shortly after a speech in which he criticized Chinese regulators.
In November, authorities blocked the public listing of Alibaba affiliate firm Ant Group, which was set to be the biggest IPO of its kind in history.
In his last public appearance just days before the abortive IPO of Ant Group, Ma stirred up controversy during a speech in which he criticized China’s financial risk control strategy, stating that: “there is no risk-free innovation in this world. In many cases, controlling the risk to zero is the biggest risk.”
Putting forward his argument that Ant Group’s online payment service Alipay was a necessary financial alternative in China, Ma, a member of the Chinese Communist Party, took aim at the country’s banking system, saying: “today’s banks continue to be pawnshops, and mortgages and guarantees are pawnshops.”
Last week, sources familiar with the matter had told EFE that Ma was trying to keep a “low profile” and that he was “fine”, while dismissing rumors that he had been arrested or that the authorities had prohibited him from leaving the country as “unfounded.”
Alibaba’s shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange rose 8.35 percent by 2 pm on Wednesday following Ma’s reappearance.
The group’s shares had fallen by more than 18 percent since the entrepreneur’s last public appearance.
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Ma is no longer China’s richest man as his fortune has dropped by about $10 billion to $52.9 billion.
He is now ranked fourth on the list behind the heads of beverage company, Nongfu Spring, and tech companies, Tencent and Pinduoduo, which are Alibaba’s competitors.
Ma stepped down as the head of Alibaba in 2019 – two decades after its founding – and he does not hold an executive position at Ant, although he is the major shareholder. EFE-EPA