Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma, who has been largely hidden from public view since a government crackdown on his commercial empire began late last year, is now in Hong Kong and has visited with business associates in recent days, according to two sources.
The Chinese billionaire has kept a low profile since delivering a speech in Shanghai last October criticising China’s banking regulations. This set off a cascade of events that led in the cancellation of his Ant Group’s mega-IPO.
While Ma made only a few public appearances in mainland China after that, as curiosity about his whereabouts circulated, one of the insiders said the visit was his first to the Asian financial capital since last October.
According to the people, Ma, formerly China’s most famous and vocal entrepreneur, met at least “a handful” business associates over lunches last week.
Ma, who is mostly based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where his corporate empire is headquartered, owns at least one luxurious residence in the former British colony, which also houses some of his businesses’ offshore business operations.
In addition to New York, Alibaba is listed in Hong Kong.
The former English instructor vanished for three months before reappearing in January, addressing to a group of teachers via video. This alleviated concerns about his unusual departure from the spotlight, sending Alibaba shares soaring.
According to company sources, Ma paid a rare visit to Alibaba’s Hangzhou campus in May for the firm’s annual “Ali Day” staff and family gathering.
Photos of Ma touring many agricultural greenhouses in the eastern Zhejiang province, which is home to both Alibaba and its fintech partner Ant, went viral on Chinese social media on September 1.
The next day, Alibaba said that it would invest 100 billion yuan ($15.5 billion) by 2025 in support of “shared prosperity,” becoming the latest business behemoth to vow support for President Xi Jinping’s wealth-sharing policy.
Alibaba and its digital rivals have been subjected to a broad regulatory onslaught on concerns ranging from monopolistic behaviour to consumer rights. In April, the e-commerce juggernaut was fined a record $2.75 billion for monopoly violations.
Earlier this year, regulators imposed substantial restructuring on Ant, whose bungled $37 billion IPO in Hong Kong and Shanghai’s Nasdaq-style STAR Market would have been the world’s largest.