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Jack Ma, 'Missing' for Months Since China Fallout, Emerges for First Time for Virtual Meet With Teachers

File photo of Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

File photo of Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Amid reports speculating about Alibaba founder and billionaire Jack Ma's whereabouts, Chinese state media has shared a video of him 'virtually' meeting a hundred rural teachers across the country on Wednesday.

Amid reports speculating about Alibaba founder and billionaire Jack Ma's whereabouts, Chinese state media has shared a video of him 'virtually' meeting a hundred rural teachers across the country on Wednesday.

The normally voluble Jack Ma has been staying out of the public eye. He earlier cancelled a TV appearance and avoided social media. That had prompted a flurry of speculation about what might have happened to Ma, China's biggest global business celebrity and a symbol of its tech boom.

ALSO READ | Jack Ma Not Missing, But Laying Low for Time Being, Says Report After Speculation on Alibaba Founder

But on Wednesday, Chinese state media Global Times shared a video of Ma interacting with a 100 rural teachers through video conference. "We'll meet again after the pandemic," he says in the clip.

CNBC had earlier reported that contrary to speculation, Ma was not missing but was “laying low” after telling off Chinese government regulators.

“He is very likely in Hangzhou, where the headquarters of Alibaba is. We forget that he is no longer involved with the management of Alibaba. He is being less visible purposefully. And you can expect that that will continue to be the case for some time. He ran afoul of the government of the PRC (People’s Republic of China). He has pushed on that line a number of times in the past and been okay,” CNBC’s David Faber had reported quoting sources.

Ma, a 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. His latest gambit backfired after he called regulators too conservative in the October 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.

He 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 criticising. Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan also was in the audience.

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.

On November 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 October 17.

first published:January 20, 2021, 10:13 IST