Jack Ma has resurfaced in a video praising China’s teachers, marking the first time the billionaire has been seen in public since Ant Group’s planned $37bn initial public offering was halted nearly three months ago..
The Chinese tech entrepreneur and founder of ecommerce group Alibaba dropped out of public view after criticising the country’s regulators and state-owned banks in late October, prompting speculation over his whereabouts.
Following the comments, officials dressed down Mr Ma and regulators halted the IPO of Ant, the payments group he controls, which was set to be the world’s largest.
Mr Ma also skipped the filming of a TV talent show he created for African entrepreneurs in November, which he had been set to judge.
Alibaba’s Hong Kong-traded shares rose more than 8 per cent after the video emerged on Wednesday.
“My colleagues and I have been studying and thinking, and we have become more determined to devote ourselves to education and public welfare,” said Mr Ma, according to a transcript of his remarks posted on a news portal backed by the government of China’s Zhejiang province, where Alibaba is based.
But in a sign of the continued regulatory scrutiny of Mr Ma’s business empire, later on Wednesday China proposed new stricter rules for payments businesses, Ant’s main business driver.
The draft rules from China’s central bank called for tighter control of users’ payments data, greater sharing of data with regulators while also setting the stage for possible antitrust action against Ant and Tencent, which runs Wechat Pay. Regulators would be empowered to breakup payments groups abusing their market position.
Ke Yan, an equity analyst at DZT Research in Singapore, said: “For the market, it’s a good signal that Jack is still alive and kicking.” He said the video reassured foreign investors over worst-case scenarios, such as a possible nationalisation of Alibaba or Mr Ma’s permanent disappearance.
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