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Jack Ma Spotted Playing Golf Like a 'Novice' on Chinese Island, After Laying Low for Months

In this May 15, 2019, file photo, founder of Alibaba group Jack Ma arrives for the Tech for Good summit in Paris. (AP Photo)

In this May 15, 2019, file photo, founder of Alibaba group Jack Ma arrives for the Tech for Good summit in Paris. (AP Photo)

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.

After months of ducking the public eye, Chinese tycoon and the Alibaba boss, Jack Ma, was reportedly spotted playing a game of golf at the expansive greens of the Sun Valley Golf Resort in Hainan. This comes just weeks after Chinese state media shared a video of him 'virtually' meeting a hundred rural teachers across the country on January 20.

The plush five-star resort, located on the picturesque Hainan Island, south of the Qiongzhou Strait separating it from the Chinese mainland, has a 27-hole course with a striking view.

Ma was spotted playing golf like a “novice”, a person, who did not wish to be named, told Bloomberg. The Alibaba group is yet to comment on the development.

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.

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However, on January 20, 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.

One of China's unusually vocal and outspoken tycoons, Ma had come in conflict with the CCP after it flayed the government’s 'pawnshop' financial regulators and state-owned banks in an incendiary speech in Shanghai back in October. Further, calling for reform of a system that 'stifled business innovation', he likened global banking regulations to an 'old people's club'.golf

Recently, the Chinese state media published a list of its pioneering tech giants, but there was a striking absence of one tycoon – Jack Ma. More telling was its commentary on the Ali Baba’s co-founder archrival Pony M, who the Shanghai Securities News hailed for “rewriting the mobile age”.

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.

Beijing has launched a campaign to curtail the growing power of private technology corporations in almost every facet of Chinese life, as exemplified by the ubiquity of Tencent's WeChat messaging service. Shares in Tencent and Xiaomi rose more than 2 per cent Tuesday.

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

first published:February 11, 2021, 11:06 IST