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Thread: Where is Jack Ma, China's billionaire founder of Alibaba Group? Reported missing in China

  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnLanders's Avatar
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    Where is Jack Ma, China's billionaire founder of Alibaba Group? Reported missing in China

    BEIJING -- China's best-known entrepreneur, e-commerce billionaire Jack Ma, made his fortune by taking big risks.

    The former English teacher founded Alibaba Group in 1999, when China had few internet users. Online payments service Alipay launched five years later, before regulators said such businesses would be allowed. Both long shots grew to dominate their industries.

    Ma's latest gambit backfired after he called regulators too conservative in an Oct. 24 speech and urged them to be more innovative. They halted the impending stock market debut of Ant Group, an online finance platform that grew out of Alipay. Alibaba's share price sank, possibly costing Ma his status as China's richest tycoon.

    Since then, the normally voluble Ma has stayed out of the public eye, canceled a TV appearance and avoided social media. That has prompted a flurry of speculation about what might happen to Ma, China's biggest global business celebrity and a symbol of its tech boom.

    "The Jack Ma Era is ended," wrote a blogger under the name Yueyue Talks Technology. "It's too late to say goodbye."

    Spokespeople for Alibaba and Ant didn't respond to questions about why Ma hasn't appeared in public.

    Some see Ma's travails as a warning from the ruling Communist Party that even a wildly successful entrepreneur can't publicly defy regulators. But finance experts said President Xi Jinping's government already was uneasy about Alibaba's dominance in retailing. As for Ant, regulators worried it might add to financial risks seen by the ruling party as one of the biggest threats to China's economic growth.

    Shaun Rein, a business consultant in Shanghai who said he meets Alibaba managers and people who know Ma, said none of them reports the billionaire is in legal trouble.

    "They spanked him. He's learned his lesson, and that's why he's been quiet for the past two months," said Rein, founder of China Market Research Group. "Some of his friends told me they can't believe how stupid he was."

    Ma, 56, stepped down as Alibaba's chairman in 2019 but is part of the Alibaba Partnership, a 36-member group with the right to nominate a majority of its board of directors. He is one of the biggest shareholders.

    Ma irked regulators with the speech at a business conference in Shanghai attended by some of the regulators he was criticizing. Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan also was in the audience.

    Ma complained regulators had an antique "pawnshop mentality" and were hampering innovation, according to Chinese media. He appealed to them to support unconventional approaches to make it easier for entrepreneurs and young people to borrow.

    "The race tomorrow will be a race of innovation, not regulatory capabilities," Ma said, according to the Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily.

    That clashed with the ruling party's marathon campaign to reduce surging debt that has prompted fears about a possible financial crisis and led international rating agencies to cut Beijing's credit rating for government borrowing. At the same event in Shanghai, Wang warned new technologies improve efficiency but "amplified financial risks," according to the business magazine Caixin.

    On Nov. 3, regulators suspended Ant's market debut. It would have been 2020's biggest, raising some $37 billion.

    Alibaba's CEO later praised regulators in a possible attempt to repair relations. But Ma said nothing. The last posting on his Sina Weibo social media account is dated Oct. 17.

    Alibaba Group shares traded in Hong Kong have fallen 19% since October. Ma's fortune, which peaked earlier above $60 billion, fell by more than $10 billion.

    Alibaba, headquartered in Ma's hometown of Hangzhou, southwest of Shanghai, was founded to connect Chinese exporters with Western retailers. The company has expanded into online consumer retailing, entertainment and other areas.

    Its finance arm, Yu'ebao, launched in 2013, attracted millions of customers in a market dominated by state-owned banks that focus on serving government industries. By 2017, Yu'ebao was the world's biggest money market fund with 1.2 trillion yuan ($170 billion) in assets, competing with state banks for deposits.

    Ant Group has been ordered to overhaul its business before its market debut can go ahead.

    The central bank said Dec. 28 it told Ant to focus on its online payments business. That suggested the company might be required to scale back its ambitions and new initiatives, which would hurt its appeal to investors.

    Ma and Alibaba aren't regulators' only tech industry targets.

    The ruling party has declared anti-monopoly enforcement, especially in online industries, a priority.

    Executives of Alibaba and five other tech giants including Tencent, operator of the WeChat messaging service, and online retailer were warned by regulators last month not to try to keep new competitors out of their markets, according to the government.

    Stock traders in Hong Kong talk about Ma's disappearance from social media but doubt Alibaba or Ant will be affected, said Kenny Wen of securities firm Everbright Sun Hung Kai.

    "The key point that will affect how these companies develop is the latest anti-trust regulations," said Wen. "Jack Ma has already stepped down from management, and this does not affect the operation of the company."

    The anti-monopoly investigation of Alibaba announced in December targets its policy that prohibits vendors and other business partners from dealing with its competitors.

    Foreign investors were rattled, but Chinese businesspeople are "quite happy" with the crackdown, said Rein.

    "A lot of people saw Alibaba and Tencent as monopolies and stifling competition," he said.

    Ma's high profile is unusual in a society where folk wisdom warns, "a man fears getting famous like a pig fears getting fat." Others such as Tencent founder Ma Huateng, who is no relation to Jack Ma, are known for avoiding reporters and public appearances.

    Jack Ma dresses up in a leather jacket, sunglasses and wig to perform rock songs at Alibaba's annual employee festival in a Hangzhou.

    Ma, who jokes that his oversize head and angular features make him look like the title character in "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," has acted as an informal business envoy abroad. He met President Donald Trump in January 2017 and promised to create U.S. jobs.

    Ma's success has earned him a reputation as being politically well-connected. But this isn't the first time Alibaba has been hurt by its outspokenness.

    In 2015, then-deputy chairman Joe Tsai criticized a government report that said Alibaba failed to keep counterfeits off its sales platforms. The government responded by attacking Alibaba in state media and publicizing complaints about fake and shoddy goods.

  2. #2
    Senior Member JohnLanders's Avatar
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    Chinese tech companies did a pretty good job convincing global investors that they operated independently from the Communist Party. Now, Jack Ma has become a case study for the firms’ biggest skeptics.

    Companies from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to Tencent Holdings Ltd. splashed out billions on overseas acquisitions while developing apps and technologies that challenged Western rivals, with little or no state interference. But Beijing’s pursuit of Ma and his Ant Group Co. after he criticized regulators arguably plays directly into the hands of China’s biggest critics in Washington, who have long asserted that no Chinese tech giant or entrepreneur is beyond the reach of President Xi Jinping.

    U.S. authorities are now debating whether to ban investments in Alibaba and Tencent, according to people familiar with the matter, in what would be a dramatic blow to two of the companies whose shares are most widely held by global investors. Already on Jan. 5, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning transactions with eight Chinese software applications including Ant’s Alipay, and Tencent’s WeChat Pay, citing concerns that Beijing will have access to the data collected by the platforms. “I stand with President Trump’s commitment to protecting the privacy and security of Americans from threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement on the order.

    Beijing’s moves could raise pressure on the incoming Joe Biden administration to push through further action detrimental to China, though it’s not clear how much of Trump’s aggressive policies the president-elect will continue.

    The party’s sway over business has become even clearer over the past 12 months as Xi pushes to consolidate power ahead of next year’s big party congress, when he’s expected to extend his rule for at least another five years. COVID-19 has only served to strengthen his grip, fueling a war-like campaign to steer the economy back on track and snuff out perceived threats to national security.

    “You need to be very mindful of who ultimately controls regulations, who controls licensing — of who’s in charge,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting. “And if you forget and you start to be overly critical or take too much of a role that normally belongs to the party, then you’re going to get chopped down a notch or two.”

    Beijing has moved to fundamentally overhaul Ma’s trillion-dollar internet empire since demolishing Ant’s $35 billion public offering in November, a record-breaking debut that was to have been the entrepreneur’s crowning achievement. Authorities then forced his online finance titan to cap loans and devise a plan to hive off its most lucrative businesses. The government also launched a probe into alleged anti-competitive practices at Alibaba. The billionaire has not been seen in public since November and his absence from the recent taping of an African TV program he created spurred speculation of his whereabouts.

    “There is a lot of power in the Chinese government’s economic and financial management infrastructure, and if Ant was going to erode that power, important people would see it as a step too far,” said Graham Webster, editor of the DigiChina project at the Stanford Cyber Policy Center. But “the Chinese government also prizes these leading companies as drivers of technological independence. The party would have to perceive significant threats to tear them down.”

    The action against Ma sends the latest signal that Beijing feels emboldened to risk international fallout from measures meant to address domestic challenges. Xi has previously defied threats of U.S. sanctions to impose sweeping national security legislation on the former British colony of Hong Kong. Crushing Ant’s IPO risked alienating a plethora of powerful global financiers from Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund to Carlyle.

    The U.S. has also cited concerns about Chinese government influence over private industry to justify its efforts to force ByteDance Ltd. to sell the American share of its TikTok social network and the global campaign to convince allies to swear off equipment made by Huawei Technologies Co. Supporters of such actions often cite Chinese policies such as a 2017 law that requires companies to “support, assist and cooperate” with intelligence agencies.

    Like Huawei, Ant has also asserted its independence from the Chinese government, saying in a 2017 application to the U.S. securities regulator that it is “a private sector company and while a handful of Chinese state-owned or -affiliated funds own non-controlling minority stakes, they do not participate in company management.”

    The party has long reached into private firms, including foreign ones operating in China. One way it does that is through the presence of party committees in companies, among them tech enterprises, that are made up of employees.

    In addition, it dispatches officials to companies to oversee certain activities. Many tech leaders are also party members, including Ma, Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi and Huawei’s Ren Zhengfei. Tencent’s Pony Ma and Xiaomi Corp.’s Lei Jun are both delegates to the National People’s Congress.

    The party’s also stepped in on several occasions to punish executives for mismanagement, including Anbang Insurance Group’s Wu Xiaohui.

    But recent efforts to exert government influence over companies and intervene in the business landscape have reached new levels. That’s provided fuel to the China hawks in Washington, who argue that the party exerts too much influence over Chinese companies.

    Xi needs business executives on his side to achieve strategic goals such as the “dual-circulation” economic plan focused on domestic consumption, developing secure supply chains and reducing reliance on foreign technology. While the world’s second-largest economy was the first to rebound from COVID-19, its recovery is showing signs of peaking even as global growth remains sluggish and ties with the U.S. stay fraught.

    In a rare direct plea to the business sector in July, Xi called on executives including those from the tech industry to be more patriotic and help the post-pandemic economic recovery. “Outstanding entrepreneurs must have a strong sense of mission and responsibility for the nation, and align their businesses’ development with the prosperity of the nation and the happiness of the people,” he said.

    Weeks later, the party revealed plans to tighten control over the private sector by extending its United Front networking operations further into the business community. The policy will “strengthen ideological guidance” and “create a core group of private sector leaders who can be relied upon during critical times,” according to guidelines published at the time.

    “Under President Xi, the CCP has tightened its grip over tech companies and doubled down on its techno-nationalist initiatives,” researcher Alex Capri wrote in a recent report for the Hinrich Foundation. “In addition to placing party officials within prominent companies, it continues to neuter high profile corporate executives where there is the perception that they were operating independently from party directive or becoming too influential.”

  3. #3
    Moderator raisedbywolves's Avatar
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    Never really missing, just laying low

    Chinese billionaire Jack Ma makes first public appearance in three months-Speculation over Ma's whereabouts has swirled in the wake of a regulatory clampdown by Beijing on his sprawling business empire.

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