Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma has been touring Dutch research institutions to pursue his interest in agricultural technology, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, quoting people familiar with his trip.
The billionaire has been out of public view since he criticised China’s regulatory system in a speech a year ago. His empire promptly came under scrutiny from regulators and the $37-billion IPO of his fintech affiliate Ant Group was suspended.
Earlier this month, Ma, China’s most famous and outspoken entrepreneur, flew to the Spanish island of Mallorca, where his luxury yacht is anchored, his first trip abroad since he fell out with Chinese regulators, Spanish papers reported last week.
The SCMP, owned by Alibaba, published three photos of Ma dated October 25. In two he was seen wearing a protective gown and holding flowerpots, while in the third he was said to be was analysing technology by aluminium extrusion specialist BOAL Systems.
The billionaire, who retired as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019, will continue touring European companies and research bodies involved in agricultural infrastructure and plant breeding, according to people familiar with his plans, the SCMP reported.
Ma believed combining the technology he researched with Alibaba’s cloud computing, big data analysis and artificial intelligence could help modernise Chinese agriculture, the people said.
On September 1, photos of Ma visiting greenhouses in eastern Zhejiang province, home to both Alibaba and Ant, went viral on Chinese social media.
The next day, Alibaba said it would invest 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) 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.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard