Saturday, February 27, 2021

Alibaba’s ‘missing’ Jack Ma appears live in online meet

Speculation was rife over Ma's whereabouts after he failed to appear in the final episode of his own TV show.

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Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma talked with 100 rural teachers in China in a live video meeting on Wednesday morning, in his first appearance in three months.

The Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Group confirmed that Ma participated in the online ceremony of the annual Rural Teacher Initiative.

It was not clear from the video where he was speaking from, Reuters reports.

Speculation over the whereabouts of China’s highest-profile entrepreneur swirled this month after news reports that he had failed to appear as a judge in the final episode of his own TV show.

Ma had not appeared in public since Oct 24, when he blasted China’s regulatory system in a speech at a Shanghai forum that set him on a collision course with authorities, and led to a suspension of a US$37-billion IPO of Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Group.

Alibaba’s Hong Kong-listed shares jumped more than 6% on news of his reappearance.

Ma has resurfaced as Alibaba plans to raise at least US$5 billion through the sale of a US dollar-denominated bond this month. Reuters reported the bond proceeds could reach US$8 billion, which the e-commerce giant was likely to use for general corporate expenditure.

Alibaba is also the target of an antitrust investigation launched by Beijing last month. In recent months regulators have accelerated a crackdown on anticompetitive online behaviour.

In the Wednesday video, Ma addressed teachers receiving the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award. In previous years this ceremony was conducted in the southeastern Chinese seaside city of Sanya on Hainan Island.

“We cannot meet in Sanya due to the epidemic,” he said in his speech. “When the epidemic is over, we must find time to make up for everyone’s trip to Sanya, and then we will meet again.”

Xie Pu, founder of Chinese tech website Techie Crab, said the media and public had over-interpreted Ma’s move to lay low and that his step away from the public spotlight should not have been seen as a problem for Alibaba.

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