China state media celebrates top entrepreneurs with a list that excludes Jack Ma

Jack Ma didn't make the cut in a Shanghai Securities News front-page commentary lauding the leading lights of technology.
Jack Ma didn't make the cut in a Shanghai Securities News front-page commentary lauding the leading lights of technology.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Jack Ma was conspicuously absent from a list of China's entrepreneurial greats published by state media Tuesday (Feb 2), underscoring how the the iconic Alibaba co-founder has run afoul of Beijing.

Ma, lionised at home for creating some of his country's largest corporations, didn't make the cut in a Shanghai Securities News front-page commentary lauding the leading lights of technology. Instead, the official Chinese paper held up archrival Pony Ma as "rewriting the mobile age" with Tencent Holdings. Also on its list were BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu, Xiaomi co-founder Lei Jun and Huawei Technologies' Ren Zhengfei.

The brief editorial - which ran the same day Alibaba Group Holding is slated to unveil earnings - may help assuage fears Tencent could get caught up in a broader industry crackdown now focused on Ma's Alibaba and Ant Group. Beijing has launched a campaign to curtail the growing power of private technology corporations in almost every facet of Chinese life, as exemplified by the ubiquity of Tencent's WeChat messaging service. Shares in Tencent and Xiaomi rose more than 2 per cent Tuesday.

Jack Ma's absence is telling given the Shanghai Securities News is the most important business publication in Alibaba's backyard. The billionaire made his first public comments in January since disappearing from view late last year, after his now-infamous rebuke of Chinese regulators prompted a backlash that derailed Ant's record US$35 billion (S$46 billion) initial public offering and spurred an investigation into his e-commerce giant. Much about the future of China's most recognisable and outspoken businessman remains unclear.

"A generation of Chinese entrepreneurs emerged from the rigid structures of our old economic system with the desire to escape poverty and passion to achieve business ambitions," the newspaper, which is backed by the official Xinhua News Agency, wrote.

"They have breathed new life into China's economic reforms."