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Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Reappears In Hong Kong

Chinese billionaire has kept a low profile since giving a speech in Shanghai last year criticising financial regulators. Ant was forced to drop its IPO and has undergone a major rejig.

Jack Ma made a visit to Hong Kong last week and was seen dining with business associates. File photo by Reuters.

 

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma, largely out of public view since a regulatory clampdown started on his business empire late last year, is currently in Hong Kong and has met business associates in recent days, two sources told Reuters.

The Chinese billionaire has been keeping a low profile since delivering a speech in October last year in Shanghai criticising China’s financial regulators. That triggered a chain of events that resulted in the shelving of his Ant Group’s mega IPO.

While Ma made a limited number of public appearances in mainland China after that, as speculation swirled about his whereabouts, one of the sources said the visit marked his first trip to the Asian financial hub since last October.

Alibaba did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside of its regular business hours. Comments from Ma typically come via the company. The sources declined to be identified due to confidentiality constraints.

Ma, once China’s most famous and outspoken entrepreneur, met at least “a few” business associates over meals last week, the people said.

Ma, who is mostly based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where his business empire is headquartered, owns at least one luxury house in the former British colony that also houses some of his companies’ offshore business operations.

Alibaba is also listed in Hong Kong, besides New York.

The former English teacher disappeared from public view for three months before surfacing in January, speaking to a group of teachers by video. That eased concern about his unusual absence from the limelight and sent Alibaba shares surging.

In May, Ma made a rare visit to Alibaba’s Hangzhou campus during the firm’s annual “Ali Day” staff and family event, company sources have said.

 

Pledge to Share Wealth

On September 1, photographs of Ma visiting several agricultural greenhouses in the eastern Zhejiang province, home to both Alibaba and its fintech affiliate Ant, went viral on Chinese social media.

The next day, Alibaba said it would invest 100 billion yuan ($15.5bn) by 2025 in support of “common prosperity”, becoming the latest corporate giant to pledge support for the wealth sharing initiative driven by President Xi Jinping.

Alibaba and its tech rivals have been the target of a wide-ranging regulatory crackdown on issues ranging from monopolistic behaviour to consumer rights. The e-commerce behemoth was fined a record $2.75bn in April over monopoly violations.

Earlier this year, regulators also imposed a sweeping restructuring on Ant, whose botched $37bn initial public offering in Hong Kong and on Shanghai’s Nasdaq-style STAR Market would have been the world’s largest.

 

Ant Boosts Registered Cap

That led to Ant Group raising its registered capital to 35bn yuan from 23.8bn yuan.

Ant said in a statement on Monday the increase was to support growth and was “according to relevant regulations and business needs.”

The sweeping restructuring underscores regulators’ determination to rein in the country’s internet giants. The overhaul subjects Ant and other tech majors to tougher regulatory oversight and capital requirements.

Ant said the 47% jump in registered capital comes from “capitalisation of the company’s capital reserve.” It said it had not engaged in any fundraising activity and that no additional investors were involved.

 

• Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard

 

ALSO SEE:

Beijing Breaking Up Ant’s Alipay, With Separate App For Loans: FT

China’s new payment rules draw the line for Alipay, WeChat Pay

Measures applied to Ant to be imposed on other payment firms

Jack Ma under pressure to sell control of Ant, sources claim

 

Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.

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