Ma, the billionaire founder of tech giants Alibaba and Ant Group, had not been seen since regulators blocked Ant’s record-breaking public offering in November.
Jack Ma has resurfaced after months out of public sight, which has fueled intense speculation about the billionaire’s fate as he faces increasingly scrutiny of his internet empire.
China’s best-known entrepreneur addressed teachers via a live broadcast on Wednesday at an annual event he hosts to recognize rural educators, according to people familiar with the matter. In a video of the event posted online, Ma explained how he would devote more time to philanthropy. The Alibaba and Ant co-founder did not mention his recent clashes with Beijing during his speech, which was first reported on a local blog. Ant confirmed the authenticity of the video in an email.
Alibaba shares gained more than 4% in Hong Kong. While it’s still unclear where Ma is, her appearance in a public forum could help quell lingering rumors about her fate as Beijing continues investigations into online finance titan Ant Group Co. and Alibaba. Group Holding Ltd. The leader had remained out of public view from the start. November, when Chinese regulators torpedoed Ant’s $ 35 billion IPO, tightened fintech regulation, then ordered an overhaul of Ant and launched a separate antitrust investigation into Alibaba – all within days.
“Recently my colleagues and I have studied and reflected. We have made a firmer resolution to dedicate ourselves to educational philanthropy, ”Ma said in the video. “Working hard for rural revitalization and common prosperity is the responsibility of our generation of businessmen.”
Ma’s assault on the trillion-dollar corporate empire sums up a broader campaign to curb a generation of Chinese tech giants that Beijing now sees as exercising too much control over the world’s No.2 economy. The wave of actions against its sister companies has shown how Beijing has lost patience with the inordinate power of its tech moguls, now seen as a threat to political and financial stability President Xi Jinping bestows the most.
The government has increasingly sought to influence the extent to which the businesses of Tencent Holdings Ltd. at ByteDance Ltd. collect data and engage in direct commerce and media. In the same month, Ant canceled its record-breaking IPO, with the nation’s leading antitrust watchdog released new guidelines warning tech giants against monopoly practices ranging from forced exclusivity deals to collusion on data. While Ant and Alibaba have suffered the brunt of the assault since November, investors have since sold their peers from Tencent to Meituan.
Ma’s position with Beijing remains unclear. In early December, the man most closely identified with China Inc.’s meteoric rise was invited by the government to stay in the country, a person familiar with the matter said. A debate over its whereabouts has arisen because Beijing has in the past quietly detained billionaires who have broken the law, without immediate trial.