China: Alibaba founder Jack Ma appears for first time since government crackdown

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Billionaire Jack Ma had not been seen in public since he slammed China’s financial regulatory system in a speech at a Shanghai forum in October.

Jack Ma, the founder of China’s largest e-commerce company Alibaba, on Wednesday made his first public appearance since October when he spoke to a group of teachers online.

The Jack Ma Foundation said in a statement Wednesday, “Jack Ma participated in the online ceremony of the annual Rural Teacher Initiative event on January 20.”

In a 50-second video, Ma congratulated teachers supported by his foundation. China’s highest-profile entrepreneur, however, made no mention of his disappearance from public or the government’s efforts to tighten control over his companies.

Speculations over Ma’s unusual absence were rife in the wake of news this month that the Alibaba founder was replaced as a judge in a reality TV show.

The billionaire, who is widely respected in China, had not appeared in public since October 24, when he blasted China’s financial regulatory system in a speech at a forum in Shanghai. The criticism upset the country’s authorities who suspended the planned multibillion-dollar stock market debut of Ant Group, a financial platform that grew out of Alibaba’s payments service, Alipay.

Alibaba’s Hong Kong-listed shares jumped over 10% on the news of Ma’s reappearance.

“Jack Ma’s reappearance has given investors peace of mind after a lot of rumors, allowing them to pile into the stock which had been a laggard in the market,” Steven Leung, sales director at brokerage UOB Kay Hian in Hong Kong, told Reuters news agency.