Is fate more powerful than time

After criticism of the financial system: Where is Jack Ma? China's powerful billionaire disappeared

Beijing (AP) - When Jack Ma stepped on stage at a congress in Shanghai at the end of October, he certainly had no idea that it would be his last public appearance for the time being. He accused the country's banks of a “pawnshop mentality” - and disappeared.

Ma, one of the richest men in China and founder of the online trading giant Alibaba, took to the field against what he saw as the encrusted structures of the Chinese financial system.

"Good innovation is not afraid of regulation, but it is afraid of outdated regulations," Ma was quoted as saying. The future should not be regulated “using yesterday's methods”, Ma continued. Since then he has disappeared.

As the British Financial Times first reported at the end of December, Ma has not attended any public appointments since his appearance in Shanghai. Although numerous international media have since covered the disappearance of the former Chinese model entrepreneur, there is still no clear indication of where he might be.

Alibaba didn't respond to inquiries about its founder. Even in China's state-controlled media, there is no clearing up of Ma's fate.

What is undoubtedly clear, however, is that the billionaire and Alibaba are targeted by the Chinese government. This became clear immediately after his fervent speech in October. Just days later, the regulators stopped the IPO of the Alibaba financial subsidiary Ant Group, which was planned for early November, with reference to new rules.

It should have been the biggest IPO of all time. Alibaba also got caught in the crossfire on another front, which is now also being investigated by the Chinese antitrust authorities for alleged monopoly offenses.

Observers think it is unrealistic that Ma is being held by the security authorities. One more likely scenario is that the billionaire has been advised to stay out of the public eye for the time being.

The US broadcaster CNBC reported, citing a person familiar with the matter, that Ma had "withdrawn for the time being". "He has locked his door and is thinking about his mistakes," says the independent Shanghai economist Liu Shengjun.

Ma would not be the first rich entrepreneur to be detained in China by the authorities. In 2015, the disappearance of billionaire Guo Guangchang caused a great deal of excitement. At the time, users of social networks had seen him being taken away by police at Shanghai airport. He didn't reappear until days later. His holding company Fosun stated at the time that the billionaire helped the police reasonably well with investigations.

Two years later, investment manager Xiao Jianhua disappeared in a spectacular manner. He was kidnapped from the Four Season Hotel in Hong Kong and taken to mainland China from there. Due to allegations of embezzlement, parts of Xiao's Tomorrow Group were transferred to the state.

Real estate entrepreneur Ren Zhiqiang also disappeared last March after he called China's President Xi Jinping a “clown”. Ren was later sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Even if Ma is not threatened by a similar fate, according to Chinese experts, his life's work, Alibaba, has to be prepared for more difficult months. Beijing basically wants to take action against the ever increasing power and the monopoly business practices of the Chinese Internet giants, says observer Liu Shengjun, who speaks of a "turning point" for the industry.

With stricter rules and expanded controls, the corporations are being reminded these days who is in charge in China. It seems like this: An example is being made to industry leader Alibaba and its founder Ma.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 210113-99-04474 / 2

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