Alibaba Co-Founder Jack Ma Returns to China After a Year Away

The billionaire’s trip home comes as Beijing eases up on tech crackdown that hit confidence among private businesses

The Wall Street Journal
First Published27 Mar 2023
FILE - Founder of Alibaba group Jack Ma arrives for the Tech for Good summit in Paris on May 15, 2019. Alibaba founder Jack Ma has resurfaced in China after months of overseas travel, visiting a school in the city where his company is headquartered and discussed topics such as artificial intelligence. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)
FILE - Founder of Alibaba group Jack Ma arrives for the Tech for Good summit in Paris on May 15, 2019. Alibaba founder Jack Ma has resurfaced in China after months of overseas travel, visiting a school in the city where his company is headquartered and discussed topics such as artificial intelligence. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)(AP)

Jack Ma, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s billionaire co-founder, has returned to mainland China after spending roughly a year overseas, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Ma’s travels have been the subject of intense scrutiny as China’s leadership seeks to regain the confidence of entrepreneurs following years of regulatory clampdowns and Covid-19 pandemic measures that battered the country’s private businesses. The tech titan’s extensive time abroad was interpreted by some in the business world as evidence that uncertainty still clouded the tech sector.

Mr. Ma, who has spent most of the past year in Japan, returned to China in recent days, the people said. He celebrated the most recent Lunar New Year in Hong Kong, and recently traveled to Singapore and Australia.

The Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments.

China’s new premier devoted a large portion of his first press conference in his new role earlier this month to reassuring entrepreneurs of Beijing’s support for the private sector, saying the government’s “commitment in this regard is unequivocal and steadfast.”

Mr. Ma’s return to China was earlier reported by the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.

Mr. Ma has kept a low profile since November 2020, when Ant Group Co. called off initial public offerings in Hong Kong and Shanghai that were on track to raise more than $34 billion. The cancellations came after Mr. Ma’s speech at a financial forum drew the ire of regulators. Regulators subsequently launched a probe into Alibaba for alleged anticompetitive behavior on its e-commerce platform and later hit the company with a record $2.8 billion fine.

A sweeping regulatory clampdown on other private businesses soon followed, with Beijing tightening controls on everything from videogames and education to real estate.

In January, Mr. Ma gave up control of Ant Group after the financial-technology giant’s shareholders agreed to restructure its business. On the same day, the party boss at China’s central bank said that the crackdown on fintech operations of more than a dozen internet companies was “basically” over.

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