Jan 07, 2021 15:18 PM

For two months, more and more people in China and the rest of the world have been wondering where Jack Ma is. At the beginning of November, the leadership of the State and the Chinese Communist Party summoned the charismatic founder of the Internet giant Alibaba to show him that in the huge country, no matter how many billions of dollars someone owns: the power is elsewhere. In a speech in Shanghai on October 24, Jack Ma denounced the Chinese authorities as outdated and backward, and called for more regulatory freedoms for consortia like Ant Group. Ma postponed Ant Group's IPO at the last second, with an estimated volume of $ 37 billion. Since then, the hitherto talkative Jack Ma has kept quiet, and his social media accounts are also silent. His last post on the Weibo platform is from October 17.

In November, he was fired as a jury member for the Chinese TV show Africa's Business Heroes and was quickly replaced. Meanwhile, Chinese regulators continue to crack down on Jack Ma's business empire.

The former English teacher owns more than four percent of online giant Alibaba, which in turn owns a third of Ant Group. His whereabouts is a mystery But where is Ma? Are the Chinese authorities holding the billionaire against his will, or is he under house arrest for going too far with his verbal attacks on financial regulators and state banks?

"I think they warned him to better keep a low profile," says Duncan Clark, director of technology consultancy BDA China in Beijing. "It is a rather unusual situation, more related to the large size of Ant Group and the sensitivity of financial regulation," says the specialist. DW columnist Yuwen Deng knows what it means to mess with the government in Beijing. In 2018 he published an article in the New York Times titled "Seven Tips for Xi Jinping", in which he called for democratic reforms in China. After that he lost his job as editor of the Study Times. He is now doing research work at the University of Nottingham, in England. "Beijing wants to crack down on the monopoly of some fintech providers, to limit their capital power and restore the authority of the supervisory authority," Deng explains. Furthermore, Beijing "wants to make sure that no tech giant like Alibaba dares to challenge the party's power in the future." The party has the upper hand In China, prominent businessmen disappearing from the scene is not unusual. They often end up in prison for long periods. In 2010, for example, the former wealthiest man in China and founder of the Gome electronics store chain, Huang Guangyu, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption. Guo Guangchang, whose business conglomerate Fosun International works closely with German vaccine developer BioNTech, also disappeared for some time in 2015. And last year, billionaire real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang was arrested for criticizing China's response to the coronavirus. In September he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. A hard lesson Shaun Rein runs the management consultancy China Market Research Group in Shanghai and is in regular contact with Alibaba managers and people around Jack Ma. For him, Ma "learned his lesson and that is why he has been quiet for the past two months. "he said, quoted by the AP news agency. "Some of his friends told me that they couldn't believe the stupidity Ma had done." Obviously, he was very risky attacking the upper echelons of the biggest decision makers in China.

In addition to representatives of financial regulators, among those attending the economic conference in Shanghai was China's Vice President Wang Qishan.Ma denounced what he saw as a "pawnshop mentality" in China's regulators, which hampered innovation by fintech companies. She called on financial regulators to encourage unconventional approaches to make it easier for entrepreneurs and young people to borrow. "Tomorrow's race has started. It will be the race of innovation, not regulatory possibilities," Ma was quoted as saying by Hong Kong's Apple Daily.

For his part, according to information from the business magazine Caixin, Vice President Wang warned at the Shanghai conference that, although new technologies improve efficiency, they also "increase financial risks." Beijing apparently fears that increased debt in China could trigger a financial crisis, and that international rating agencies could downgrade the credit quality of Chinese government bonds. Consequently, the Chinese government tightens the reins. On the last weekend of December, senior executives of Ant Group were called to the Central Bank of China, and asked to "rigorously correct" "errors" in its credit, insurance and asset management services. Regardless of whether Jack Ma has voluntarily secluded himself at his home in Hangzhou, nearly 200 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, or whether he is under house arrest there, the state pressure against his corporate empire is likely to increase even further.

Source: Deutsche Welle

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