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FILE - In this May 15, 2019, file photo, founder of Alibaba group Jack Ma arrives for the Tech for Good summit in Paris. Ma hasn't been seen in public since he angered regulators with an October 2020 speech. That is prompting speculation about what might happen to the billionaire founder of the world's biggest e-commerce company. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File) (AP)
FILE - In this May 15, 2019, file photo, founder of Alibaba group Jack Ma arrives for the Tech for Good summit in Paris. Ma hasn't been seen in public since he angered regulators with an October 2020 speech. That is prompting speculation about what might happen to the billionaire founder of the world's biggest e-commerce company. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File) (AP)

Jack Ma is back

Observers say that Jack Ma's mass popularity is seen as a threat by Beijing and his Silicon Valley-style outspokenness has done little to calm that anxiety. The campaign against Ma, crafted by an insecure regime to show him who’s boss and serve as an example, deserves to fail

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma put an end to months of speculation and conspiracy theories about his whereabouts by making his first public appearance since 24 October. On Wednesday, the founder of e-commerce major Alibaba and its financial arm Ant Group addressed a group of teachers, an annual affair he hosts for rural educators, via a videoconferencing platform. He was last seen at an event in Shanghai, where he made scathing remarks about China’s regulatory system for the financial sector. It stifled innovation and needed reform, he said.

All hell broke loose after that. Chinese authorities scuttled Ant’s $37-billion initial public offering just ahead of its launch, tightening fintech regulations and placing Alibaba under the country’s antitrust scanner. Ma, a former English teacher who spotted the internet’s potential for disintermediation early, has acquired a cult-like following of fans for his dizzying success. Observers say that his mass popularity is seen as a threat by Beijing and his Silicon Valley-style outspokenness has done little to calm that anxiety. The campaign against Ma, crafted by an insecure regime to show him who’s boss and serve as an example, deserves to fail.

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