Where is Chinese business tycoon and co-founder of Alibaba Group – that is the billion-dollar question today. Speculations are rife over his whereabouts but the truth is that nobody has a definitive answer. While a few news reports suggested that Ma may have been arrested, others said that the billionaire businessman, who had come under the scrutiny of the Chinese government and authorities for being a vocal critic of the regulatory norms is simply lying low. Some have also opined that Ma may have fled the country.
Experts, however, said that due to the stringent secrecy norms followed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), there is little clarity about his whereabouts. “These are just speculations. The fact is nobody barring a few handful people in China would know the exact whereabouts of Jack Ma,” said a foreign policy expert on condition of anonymity.
What media is saying
News channel CNBC reported that the Alibaba founder is not missing but is “laying low”.
“He is very likely in Hangzhou, where the headquarters of Alibaba is. We forget that he is no longer involved with the management of Alibaba. He is being less visible purposefully. And you can expect that that will continue to be the case for some time. He ran afoul of the government of the PRC (People’s Republic of China). He has pushed on that line a number of times in the past and been okay,” a CNBC report said quoting sources.
Several other reports have suggested that Ma, once the poster boy of China, representing the perfect rags to riches story, has been either arrested or is under house arrest.
Ma missing since October
As Ma went missing since October just after he criticised China’s financial system and underlined the need for reform, social media is abuzz with speculations. His company Ant Group, an affiliate of the Alibaba Group, which was slated to launch its initial public offering announced postponement of the exercise barely two days before it was to hit the market.
The Chinese media since then has been working to alter his overarching image of a successful businessman, investor and a philanthropist.
Ma undoubtedly has been one of the most well known figures not only in China but across the world.
“Ma’s success story actually was a success story of China and that how things in the country were changing from what they were decades ago. It reversed the notion that no private businesses in China can have limited success. But this incident has shaken that ground,” the analyst said.
Ma, a former English teacher founded the e-commerce business Alibaba in 1999 when China had few internet users. “He went on to become a cult figure, people used to go mad when he appeared in public events, something that is not very common in China,” another analyst, who had been part of one of the Alibaba events a few years ago noted.
Ma went on to launch online payments service Alipay, part of the Ant Group, five years later, before such businesses would be permitted in China. Both companies grew to become the biggest in their industries.
How Ma was different
Unlike other business tycoons in China, Ma was vocal about his opinions. He was also a strong critic of the regulatory process which was laid by the Chinese government. The Alibaba founder had regularly appeared at public events and television shows unlike other Chinese entrepreneurs.