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Friends of Jack Ma 'Can't Believe How Stupid He Was'

Speculation mounts as he slips off the radar after angering China's Xi Jinping
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 5, 2021 7:53 AM CST
Updated Jan 9, 2021 4:35 PM CST
Where Is Jack Ma?
In this 2016 photo, Jack Ma, executive chairman of the Alibaba Group, looks up during a panel discussion held as part of the China Development Forum at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.   (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

(Newser) – The most common headline related to China at the moment is some variation of the same question: Where is Jack Ma? Speculation continues to mount on the whereabouts of the Chinese tycoon, often referred to as the Jeff Bezos of China. Ma hasn't been seen or heard from in a few months, even abruptly skipping an appearance on a reality TV show on which he was a judge. Coverage:

  • Last time: Ma's last public appearance came in late October, when he delivered a speech in which he blasted China's regulators and accused them of stifling innovation in business and technology, reports the Guardian. The criticism reportedly caught the attention of President Xi Jinping.
  • Retribution: The timing could not have been worse for Ma. The Wall Street Journal reports that an angry Xi personally ordered a halt to the imminent IPO of the Ant Group, the financial affiliate of Ma's enormously successful Alibaba company. It would have been the world's largest IPO and made Ma even wealthier. Since then, Beijing has moved to restructure and reduce Ma's business empire, accusing it of monopolistic practices, per CNN.

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  • Worst part: In a separate story, the Journal reports that Xi had been paying scant attention to the coming IPO—until the speech from Ma. “Thanks to Ma himself, the IPO got on Xi’s radar,” a source tells the newspaper. Reuters previously reported that underlings warned Ma to tone down his "blistering" words, but he rejected the advice.
  • Out of character: The 56-year-old Ma loves the spotlight, and his suddenly low profile has sparked all kinds of speculation, some of it of the sinister variety. Newsweek notes that a 2019 interview clip has resurfaced in which a man who fled China says Ma's future would end in one of two ways: "jail or die." New York notes that a Chinese real estate tycoon who publicly criticized Xi got 18 years in prison on corruption charges last year. But most accounts suggests Ma is merely lying low for the time being.
  • Less sinister: Shaun Rein, a business consultant in Shanghai, tells the AP that he has spoken to Alibaba managers and others who know Ma, and none say he is in serious legal trouble. "They spanked him. He’s learned his lesson, and that’s why he’s been quiet for the past two months,” said Rein, founder of China Market Research Group. “Some of his friends told me they can’t believe how stupid he was.”
  • Ditto: “It is totally expected that after a very controversial public appearance, someone would lie low for a while,” Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, tells Vice. “You don’t want to be in the public eye when your company is in a very complicated political situation.” Ma no longer holds board positions at Ant or Alibaba, but he holds large sway as a shareholder.
(Read more Jack Ma stories.)

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