Alibaba executive vice-chairman says Jack Ma lying low

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been largely out of public view since the Chinese authorities came down heavily on the company in 2020.
Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been largely out of public view since the Chinese authorities came down heavily on the company in 2020.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Alibaba Group Holding founder Jack Ma is "lying is low" and focusing on hobbies and philanthropy, the Chinese e-commerce giant's executive vice-chairman Joe Tsai told CNBC on Tuesday (June 15).

Following Mr Ma's criticism of the Chinese regulatory system last year, the authorities have come down heavily on the company, leading to the shelving of financial affiliate Ant Group's US$37 billion (S$49.1 billion) IPO and an enforced restructuring of Ant.

Mr Ma, China’s best-known entrepreneur, has been largely out of public view since. 

"He’s lying low right now. I talk to him every day," Mr Tsai said on CNBC’s Squawk Box show. 

Mr Ma, who was known for his outspokenness and for pushing boundaries with audacious statements, stepped down from Alibaba in 2019 but continued to loom large in the eyes of investors.

"The idea that Jack has this enormous amount of power, I think that’s not quite right," Mr Tsai said. "He is just like you and me, he’s a normal individual."

Alibaba was fined a record US$2.8 billion in April for anti-competitive business practices, amid a wider regulatory crackdown on China’s booming "platform economy" based around technology frameworks.

"Our business is under some kind of restructuring on the financial side of things, and also in antitrust regulation. We had to pay a big fine. But we’ve gotten that behind us, so we’re looking forward," Mr Tsai told CNBC.

Asked about human rights issues in China, Mr Tsai said a large number of people in the country were happy that their lives are improving.