Jack Ma, one of China's most well-known business leaders, has almost disappeared from the public eye following his controversial speech in Shanghai in 2020. His return to his homeland provides an opportunity for Beijing to rebuild its reputation among business.
President Xi Jinping appears to be consolidating power, focusing on the economy, and promoting a business-friendly image since Ma's arrival.
Ma, an entrepreneur who has traveled the world for six months and has been hiding in Tokyo for the last six months, has said that he decided to stay at the companies and concentrate on researching agricultural technologies abroad. He advised Ant and Alibaba employees not to wait for his return to China.
Ma returned to China last week and visited the Hangzhou school he founded in 2017 on Monday. He said he plans to resume teaching once again, and he talked about ChatGPT.
The billionaire's long absence has only exacerbated Beijing's mistrust among entrepreneurs and global investors, at a time when newly appointed Prime Minister Li Qiang has pledged his "staunch support" to the private sector.
Despite experts' concerns about the credibility of Chinese government promises of business help, many are still unclear.
Bao Fang, a Chinese IT banker who was linked to a government investigation,'s sudden disappearance last month, has only fueled speculation among China's business elite that the crackdown on the private sector will never go away.
Li Qiang and Xi Jinping in October, 2022. Photo: Reuters
Government agencies tightened their grip on Alibaba by taking a so-called "golden share" in its media arm in January. Similar plans are being considered for a subsidiary of Tencent Holdings, while the country is establishing a national police and data protection agency.
Xi's first decade as China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong was marred by tough regulatory procedures and gold stock transactions. Local corporations are now being monitored by the government and are forced to stay as far away from politics as possible, as well as to contribute significant amounts to social security.
During a lavish ceremony at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, the fintech behemoth once stood as the epitome of Chinese entrepreneurship and innovation.
After he accused China's regulators of stifling innovation, he compared local banks to pawnshops. His remarks enraged President Xi Jinping and Ma, who were silenced by one analyst for three months. He was also seen in Japan, Spain, Australia, and Thailand in a 48-second video online in early 2021, described by an analyst as similar to a hostage video.
Ant Group's $34 billion public offering in November 2020 was halted abruptly by Chinese regulators. The company also ordered the group of companies to sell some media assets, including the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, which was fined a record $2.8 billion a few months later.
Ant Group is continuing to plan to go public this year, although it is unlikely to, according to sources. The business must also review its operations in order to please regulators. As a result, Ant will be a completely different entity from the tech behemoth valued at $315 billion in 2020.
The company must then determine who will oversee its multibillion-dollar business, from wealth management to payments and lending; and, most importantly, when will it grant the company a financial holding license to ensure its survival.
Ma stated in January that he would step down from Ant. He reduced his voting rights to 6.2 percent.