Alibaba’s Jack Ma Makes First Public Appearance Since October

Jack Ma, the iconic businessman and co-founder of Alibaba who had been reported by media as missing, made an appearance this week in public, Chinese state media reported on Wednesday.

Ma met with 100 rural teachers via a video meeting, Tianmu News, a news portal that belongs to Zhejiang Online, a government-backed news website, reported.

The news was also carried by state-owned tabloid, The Global Times. The paper said that Ma attended the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award ceremony, an annual event launched by the Jack Ma Foundation in 2015, via video. It reported him as saying: “we’ll meet again when the [COVID-19] epidemic is over!”

The online ceremony would be Ma’s first appearance in public since October. His physical whereabouts were not disclosed. Nor did Tianmu News explain whether Ma is at liberty or under some form of judicial or regulatory control.

Ma attracted the wrath of Chinese authorities on October when he publicly criticized the country’s banking system, which is predominantly state-controlled, and its regulatory system.

Within days authorities intervened to cancel the Shanghai and Hong Kong initial public offerings of shares in Ant Group, the payments and financial services that Ma pioneered, and which was being spun off from Alibaba. Valued at $35 billion, it would have been the largest IPO of all time.

Although Ma no longer has a senior executive position at Alibaba, since his speech, regulatory problems have piled up for tech conglomerate. On Dec. 24, the company acknowledged that it had received notification of a formal anti-monopoly investigation being conducted by the State Administration for Market Regulation.

In November, the same regulator released draft rules that, for the first time, clearly define anti-competitive behavior. They appear to cover areas including pricing, payment methods, and use of data to target shoppers. The SAMR also fined Alibaba for failing to correctly notify authorities of past acquisitions.

Alibaba’s stock trades in ADR form in New York. Its shares are also traded via a secondary listing in Hong Kong. Shortly after the lunchtime trading break, the Hong Kong shares had climbed by 4% on the day to hit HK$254.

Alibaba’s media and entertainment interests include: ownership of Youku, the country’s third largest video streaming company; Taopiaopiao, one half of a duopoly in the area of online movie ticket sales; UCWeb, a popular browser for mobile devices; and Alibaba Pictures, a sprawling movies operation that encompasses distribution and marketing, data services and production.

The conglomerate recently announced the closure of its struggling online music business Xiami. It was also allowed to go ahead with the $946 million purchase of a minority stake in state-owned streaming platform Mango TV.

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