Jack Ma makes 1st public appearance via video link since Alibaba came under tougher scrutiny
Published: Jan 20, 2021 07:53 PM

Sceenshot of online video

Jack Ma Yun, the English teacher turned business magnate behind Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, appeared during a rural teacher-themed social welfare event via video link on Wednesday, according to media reports. 

It was his first public appearance since Alibaba came under tougher regulatory scrutiny amid the nation's efforts to rein in internet-based monopolies.

The Alibaba founder attended the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award ceremony via video, in which he addressed 100 rural teachers from across the country and said "We'll meet again when the [COVID-19] epidemic is over!" according to Tianmu News, a website in East China's Zhejiang Province where Alibaba is based.

The ceremony is an annual event launched by the Jack Ma Foundation in 2015. It was previously held in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province each year, on the date of the traditional Chinese Laba Festival, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was reorganized as an online event for the first time. The Laba Festival fell on Wednesday this year.

Alibaba's shares in the Hong Kong market swiftly extended gains on the news, which emerged shortly before noon, and ended 8.52 percent higher on Wednesday, outperforming a 1.08-percent gain in the Hang Seng Index. 

Ma's disappearance from public view over the past two months sparked speculation over his whereabouts among many Western media outlets.

Ma, the actual controller of Alibaba fintech offshoot Ant Group, and Ant management were summoned for talks by the country's top financial regulatory authorities on November 2, just before Ant's planned dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The regulatory interview was the prelude to a series of toughening moves that have seen the regulators call a halt to what was expected to be a record-smashing IPO, launch an antitrust probe into Alibaba, and summon Ant Group managers to a second regulatory talk that ordered the fintech giant to rectify its key businesses.

Ant Group has established a rectification working team and is formulating a timeframe for overhauling its services, Chen Yulu, deputy governor of the People's Bank of China (PBC), the country's central bank, revealed recently.

A few hours after a PBC statement that briefed reporters on the second interview on December 26, Ant said that it would set up a rectification work team under the guidance of regulators to implement the interview's requirements and regulate the operation and development of its financial businesses. 

Two days prior to the interview, the country's top market watchdog announced that it had launched a probe into Alibaba's suspected monopolistic practices, including forcing merchants to choose one platform over those of two competitors.

Alibaba's involvement in the antitrust whirlwind echoed the annual tone-setting Central Economic Work Conference on December 16-18, 2020, which put strengthening anti-monopoly regulation and preventing disorderly expansion of capital among the economy's top priorities.

On the day that the probe was announced and the day after, the country's flagship newspaper People's Daily ran two widely read commentaries on the antitrust case.

"For the platform economy, strengthening anti-monopoly supervision does not bring about a 'winter' for the industry, but rather a new starting point for better and healthier development," the second commentary said.

During the country's antitrust push, Ma has not been seen in public. 

Prior to Wednesday's ceremony, the last time he was in the limelight was when he described traditional banks as operating with a "pawn shop" mentality in controversial remarks at the Bund Summit in Shanghai in late October. 

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