Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese internet behemoth Alibaba, made his first public appearance in over two months in an online video on Wednesday, ending weeks of speculation about his whereabouts.
Ma -- one of China's richest people with a fortune estimated at around £42billion ($58billion) -- disappeared from the public eye in early November, when he was hauled in front of regulators for an October speech critical of China's outdated financial system.
Shortly afterwards, the record-breaking £27billion ($37billion) IPO of the 56-year-old's financial group Ant was spiked at the last minute by Chinese regulators in a shock move which some saw as retaliation for Ma's outspokenness.
But a video clip of Ma giving a congratulatory speech to rural teachers as part of an annual awards ceremony organised by his charity was published on social media by Chinese financial news outlets Wednesday morning.
In the speech, Ma praised China's poverty alleviation efforts, a central target of the Communist leadership, and vowed to dedicate more efforts towards helping rural teachers.
'My colleagues and I... are even more determined to devote ourselves to education and public welfare,' he said, according to the video published by Tianmu News, an affiliation of state-run Zhejiang Daily Press Group based in Ma's home province.
'China has... entered a new stage of development, and is moving towards common prosperity,' he added.
BREAKING: Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who had not been seen in public in nearly 3 months, appears on video, saying: "We’ll meet again after the epidemic is over" pic.twitter.com/aFQyDWB7wQ— BNO News (@BNONews) January 20, 2021
A spokesperson for the Jack Ma Foundation, his charitable arm, confirmed that Ma 'participated in the online ceremony of the annual Rural Teacher Initiative event'.
Shares in Alibaba were up seven per cent in Hong Kong by early afternoon Wednesday.
Since the Ant IPO was quashed, Chinese regulators have launched an anti-monopoly probe into Alibaba.
Both Alibaba and Ant said they would cooperate with regulatory requests.
Ma, a charismatic former-teacher-turned-internet-entrepreneur, retired as chairman of Alibaba in 2019 but has long attracted attention for his outspokenness and flamboyant antics, performing as a rockstar at company conferences.
The continued squeeze on one of China's most influential companies is the latest sign that the leadership is ready to deflate the ambitions of big tech firms in a runaway internet sector.
Beijing has a history of disappearing, investigating and imprisoning financial tycoons who do not toe the party line.
Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Alibaba, made his first public appearance since regulators began clamping down on his business empire following a critical speech he gave in late October https://t.co/D6lRdC4aeH— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) January 20, 2021
Last year, outspoken real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang was jailed for 18 years on alleged corruption charges, months after penning an essay critical of the Communist Party.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.