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Jack Ma resurfaces amid regulatory clampdown

Jack Ma made his first public appearance after months of avoiding the spotlight, following rampant speculation attributing his disappearance to a regulatory crackdown on his businesses.

Why it matters: Ma had not appeared in public since Oct. 25, when he made a speech at a gathering of China’s top financiers and regulators criticizing Chinese regulation on fintech. The speech reportedly contributed to the negative attention from regulators that led to the suspension of Ant Group’s initial public offering just days later.

  • Ma’s reappearance will likely quell speculation that his disappearance was not a deliberate choice to lay low, but a sign that he might be arrested—or worse.
  • The resurfacing follows just five days after China’s central bank said Ant Group had established a rectification team to work with regulators.

Details: China’s most recognized tech billionaire held a video conference (in Chinese) with 100 teachers in remote parts of China on the morning of Jan. 20.

  • “When the epidemic is over, we will meet again,” Ma said in the video.
  • The event to recognize rural teachers’ achievements is usually held in the city of Sanya, in China’s southern island province of Hainan, state media reported.
  • At the time of writing, the hashtag “Jack Ma made his first public appearance” has been viewed over 1.3 million times on China’s Twitter-like social media platform, Weibo.

Context: Within a few days of the fateful Oct. 25 appearance, regulators in November halted Ant Group’s planned $35 billion listing on the Shanghai stock exchange and released new antitrust rules that severely curb the fintech giant’s operations, as well as those of its e-commerce affiliate, Alibaba.

  • In December, regulators fined Alibaba, Tencent, and SF Express for failing to report acquisitions to China’s market competition authorities.
  • Ten days later, they launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba over allegations of “forced exclusivity.” On the same day, the People’s Bank of China called Ant Group in for a meeting.

READ MORE: CHINA VOICES | The unsigned op-eds that foreshadowed Ant Group IPO suspension

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