Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire and founder of the behemoth Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd, isn’t on the best of terms with the Chinese government these days. Things reached a crescendo in November after Jack Ma criticized regulators in China and the state-owned banks during a speech, following which the Chinese authorities suspended the $37 billion initial public offer (IPO) of the Ant Group. The Ant Group, previously known as Ant Financial and Alipay, started out in life as a digital payments platform for Alibaba shopping website users, but later spun off as a separate company when its popularity saw millions of users sign up. The thing is, if reports are to be believed, Jack Ma hasn’t been seen in public for many weeks since November, and the world is asking where Jack Ma after all is, after he did not make an appearance at a talent show, Africa’s Business Heroes, and was instead replaced by another Alibaba executive for the appearance.
Social media chatter believes with absolute certainty that Jack Ma is “missing” and that no one knows of his whereabouts. The Financial Times reports that an Alibaba statement confirms that Jack Ma couldn’t attend the talent show, a televised contest for budding entrepreneurs, due to scheduling conflicts, but that hasn’t stopped the chatter on social media. The winners of the content are expected to win prizes offered by Ma’s charity, the Jack Ma Foundation. Well, nothing actually stops the chatter on social media till the trends and hashtags run out of steam on their own. Nevertheless, the saga of Jack Ma and the Chinese authorities has been unfolding for a while now.
It was in October 2020 that tensions really became apparent between Jack Ma and the Chinese authorities. In a speech at the Bund Summit in Shanghai, Ma criticized the Chinese government for what he called an anachronistic government regulation that would suffocate innovation in China and also likened the Chinese banks to pawn shops for the culture of collateral and guarantees. “As the Chinese like to say, if you borrow 100,000 yuan from the bank, you are a bit scared; if you borrow a million yuan, both you and the bank are a little nervous; but if you take a 1-billion-yuan loan, you are not scared at all, the bank is,” Jack Ma had reportedly said.
This was at a time when Jack Ma’s Ant Group was on the brink of a $35 billion IPO with the company’s valuation at above $300 billion and Jack Ma’s own fortune estimated at around $61 billion. This made him China’s richest man. What a difference a few months make. By the end of December 2020, Jack Ma lost as much as $11 billion of his own fortune and while Alibaba has reportedly lost about 17% of its market value. First came the cancelled IPO, then came tougher investigations into the alleged “monopolistic practices” of Alibaba and the orders to scale back the financial technology platform operations of Ant Group.
According to an official note released by The Central Bank of the People’s Republic of China, the corporate governance of the ANT Group was “not sound” and ordered the company to “return to its origins” as a digital payments services platform.
Alibaba’s businesses include Alibaba.com which is a B2B marketplace for buyers around the world, Aliexpress.com that allows small business to sell and ship products to buyers globally, Etao.com shopping search engine, Aliyun cloud services platform as well as DingTalk instant messenger, to name a few. ANT Group’s services include Alipay which is claimed to be the world’s largest digital payment’s platform, ANT Group Technology for tech services and products, Ant Fortune wealth management platform. The company also runs Zhima credit, a third-party credit ratings system that allows them to offer financial loans to individuals based on a variety of parameters.