At the Bund Finance Summit in Shanghai on Oct. 24, 2020, Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and fintech giant Ant Group Co., raised quite a few eyebrows by making some controversial statements, like drawing parallels between Chinese banks and pawn shops and stating that China does not encourage innovation, thereby reducing chances of growth and development.
It is important to note that the Bund Finance Summit was attended by many financial regulators and political leaders. The speech given by Mr. Ma set off a chain of events that ultimately led to his disappearance for over 3 months.
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After the Finance Summit in Shanghai concluded, Jack Ma’s businesses began receiving high-level scrutiny from Chinese authorities, with multiple probes investigating alleged anti-competitive behavior. Multiple summonses were issued to Mr. Ma and Ant Group Co. All these steps were considered to be in reaction to statements made by Mr. Ma at the Shanghai summit and gave rise to a long series of speculations.
Regulators began compiling reports on Ant Group’s microlending practices and concluded they were to blame for encouraging people to build debt. There were multiple meetings between financial regulators, Mr. Ma, and a few top Ant Group Co. executives, and soon the biggest IPO in history, the Ant Group Co. IPO was called off. The Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchange halted the US$37 billion IPO.
Jack Ma disappears
After the scrutiny and meetings began, Jack did not appear for the final episode of a TV show, Africa’s Business Heroes, in which he was to appear as a judge. People started questioning his absence and wondered what might have happened? Some even suggested that he might have been arrested due to the ongoing scrutiny of his businesses or for statements targeting China in his address at the Bund Finance Summit. His sudden disappearance created quite a stir worldwide. Many people were concerned about his safety and whereabouts.
However, after over three months of laying low and being almost untraceable, Jack Ma was recently seen addressing rural teachers via a video conference. The speculations and rumors came to a halt. Jack Ma addressed over 100 teachers in rural areas via the video conference. The spokesperson of his foundation and several Chinese media reports further confirmed his virtual appearance.
Mr. Ma, who appeared to be very relaxed throughout the video conference session, received praise from foundation members for his dedication and commitment to education. During the video conference, Mr. Ma’s statements suggested that his absence was due to the spread of COVID-19 and that he looked forward to meeting the group in person next time.
Shortly after, another video appeared in the news showing Jack Ma visiting a primary school in Tonglu County, near Hangzhou, China. Mr. Ma was seen wearing a black cap and jacket. However, the video did not disclose any details or the reason behind his visit.
The chain of events started with his address at the Bund Finance Summit in Shanghai and led to his sudden disappearance and scrutiny of his businesses by the financial regulators. It is still unclear whether the Chinese government is putting pressure on Mr. Ma.