Jack Ma's public absence fuels speculation

BEIJING • Alibaba founder Jack Ma's absence from public view in the past two months, including missing the final episode of a TV show on which he was to appear as a judge, has fuelled social media speculation over his whereabouts amid a Chinese regulatory clampdown on his sprawling business empire.

The Chinese billionaire has not appeared in a public setting since a late October forum in Shanghai where he blasted China's regulatory system in a speech that put him on a collision course with officials, resulting in the suspension of a US$37 billion (S$48.75 billion) initial public offering of Alibaba's Ant Group fintech arm.

The Financial Times reported last Friday that Mr Ma was replaced as a judge in the final episode of a game show called Africa's Business Heroes.

An Alibaba spokesman told Reuters yesterday that the change was due to a scheduling conflict, declining further comment.

While news coverage of Mr Ma's absence from public view triggered speculation on Twitter, which is blocked in China, it was not a significant trending topic on social media in mainland China.

Chinese regulators have zeroed in on Mr Ma's businesses since his speech, including launching an antitrust probe into Alibaba.

Alibaba's Hong Kong-listed shares fell 2.15 per cent yesterday.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2021, with the headline 'Jack Ma's public absence fuels speculation'. Subscribe