China’s highest-profile entrepreneur, eCommerce billionaire Jack Ma, appeared on Wednesday in a video posted online, ending a 2 1/2-month disappearance from public view that prompted speculation about his status and his business empire’s future.
In the 50-second video, Ma congratulated teachers supported by his charitable foundation and made no mention of his absence from public view and scrutiny of his Alibaba Group and Ant Group by regulators.
The video appeared on Chinese business news and other websites.
Normally voluble and press-friendly, Ma was last seen in public after criticising financial regulators in an October 24 speech at a Shanghai conference. Days later, regulators suspended Ant’s planned multibillion-dollar stock market debut.
That prompted speculation on the internet about whether Ma, China’s biggest global business celebrity and a symbol of its tech boom, had been detained or might face legal trouble.
Some people suggested the ruling Communist Party was making an example of Ma to show entrepreneurs couldn’t defy regulators. But finance experts said President Xi Jinping’s government already was uneasy about Alibaba’s dominance in retailing and Ant’s potential financial risks before Ma’s speech.
Anti-monopoly regulators warned executives of Alibaba and five other tech giants in December not to use their dominance to block new competitors from entering their markets. The central bank and other regulators have ordered Ant to overhaul its business before its market debut can go ahead.