Alibaba Group co-founder Jack Ma made his first public appearance in months, on Wednesday, January 20. Ma had not made any appearance in public or social media since late October, as his e-commerce company – Alibaba came to face scrutiny from Chinese regulators.
The billionaire was seen in a video posted by Tianmu News which is backed by the government of Zhejiang, the eastern province where Alibaba, China’s most famous tech company, is based. He spoke to 100 teachers in a video meeting as part of a philanthropic event. Jack Ma Foundation, a philanthropic organization initiated by Jack Ma, confirmed that the event was an online award ceremony for rural teachers in China.
The event, which is usually hosted in the resort city of Sanya, was held through a virtual platform this year considering the precaution against the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We cannot meet in Sanya due to the epidemic,” Jack Ma said in the video.
He added, “When the epidemic is over, we must find time to make up for everyone’s trip to Sanya, and then we will meet again!” Although he made his first public appearance via video, his location still cannot be confirmed in the video and from the Tianmu news article.
After the video was published, Alibaba shares increased by 8.5% on Hong Kong’s stock exchange on Wednesday. And Alibaba’s New York-listed stock has risen by 5.5%.
Speculations had grown over the whereabouts of Ma in recent weeks after he skipped the recording of Africa’s Business Heroes, a television show on which he was a judge. Ma is well known for his outspoken personality and love for the limelight. His absence in the past weeks was greatly noted.
The last time Ma was seen in public was at a conference in Shanghai, in October, where he made controversial remarks over China’s banking system. In the event, he accused the existing global financial supervisory system as not fit for China’s purpose as a young, growing economy striving for innovation. Furthermore, he criticised the country’s banks for operating with a “pawn shop” mentality.
Just a few days after the event, the Chinese regulators summoned Ma and executives at Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Group, to a meeting. Ant’s initial public offering, which would have been the biggest public share sale of all time, was also halted by the regulators.
The State Administration for Market Regulation said that it would investigate alleged monopolistic practices by Alibaba.