For months, speculation about Jack Ma’s whereabouts has been rife. Perhaps the contested billionaire fled to Singapore, some postulated. Or he was put under house arrest. Or worse, he was locked in a maximum security prison.
As it turns out, China’s most talked about tycoon has been working on its golf game.
The co-founder of Ant Group Co. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has been filing at Sun Valley Golf Resort, a remote 27-hole course on the Chinese island of Hainan, for the past few weeks by discussing private information. The course is located near the southern tip of the island and offers extensive greens and breathtaking views.
It is the first known Ma sighting since the former English teacher participated in a live streaming video chat with rural educators on Jan. 20. While this performance helped to speak softly about Ma’s incarceration, speculation swirled about his standing with the Chinese Communist Party as authorities further stall his sprawling business empire.
Ma’s golf excursion adds to recent evidence that the outspoken entrepreneur has avoided – at least for now – nightmare scenarios like jail time or government confiscation of his property.
For example, Ant has reached an agreement with the Chinese authorities on a restructuring plan that could be officially announced earlier this week, Bloomberg reported on Feb. 3, citing people familiar with the matter. The deal is a first step back towards a revival of the fintech giant’s IPO, which was halted by regulators in November, just days before Ant was due to start trading in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Another positive tip came this week from the founder of SoftBank Group Corp., Masayoshi Son, a longtime friend of Ma’s who was among the earliest investors in Alibaba. Son said during SoftBank’s quarterly earnings presentation Monday that he was in touch with Ma. While not talking about the Chinese billionaire’s whereabouts, Son said Ma enjoyed drawing and shared his sketches via chat.
Alibaba shares rose as much as 1.5% in New York on Wednesday, closing at a more than 10-week high.
Representatives from Alibaba, Ant and Sun Valley Golf Resort declined to comment.
Prior to the implosion of Ant’s IPO, Ma’s appearance on a golf course would have received little or no attention. The 56-year-old has steadily relinquished daily control of his business over the past few years and stepped down as CEO of Alibaba in September 2019.
But even in partial retirement, Ma has rarely disappeared from the public eye for as long as he did after his now infamous criticism of Chinese financial regulators in October. Within weeks of his speech at the Bund Summit in Shanghai, authorities sank Ant’s list, requested a revision of the company and launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba.
Ma’s prolonged absence during the crackdown brought China’s rumor mill into high gear, and some observers drew parallels with Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The head of Yukos Oil Co., once Russia’s richest man, spent about a decade in prison for fraud and tax evasion, which he described as retaliation for challenging Vladimir Putin’s authority.
Given the opacity of Xi Jinping’s Communist Party, it is difficult for Ma to judge the final with certainty. He was noticeably absent from a list of Chinese tech giants released by state media last week, a sign that his standing with the party is still declining.
For Hao Hong, chief strategist at Bocom International in Hong Kong, the most likely explanation is that Ma simply sits back while his companies sort out their issues with regulators. Both Alibaba and Ant have formed dedicated teams to work with the Chinese government, which is still creating new rules for the country’s fintech and internet industries.
Described as a novice golf player by an observer at Sun Valley Resort, Ma may have time to work on his swing.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)