By Julie Zhu, Kane Wu and Kevin Huang
HONG KONG/BEIJING (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Alibaba founder Jack Ma has returned to China, ending a more than year-long sojourn overseas that the industry has seen as a reflection of the companies’ sober mood private Chinese companies and troubled politicians trying to stimulate the economy.
The return of China’s best-known entrepreneur could help allay the concerns of the country’s private sector businesses after two years of heavy regulatory crackdowns. Its public reemergence lends support to the government’s softening tone towards the private sector as leaders seek to shore up an economy battered by three years of COVID curbs.
Online discussion that Ma was in China began on Chinese social media on Monday, and his return was confirmed by a school he had visited and the Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post newspaper.
Ma, a former English teacher, discussed topics such as the AI-powered ChatGPT chatbot and also said he hopes to return to teaching one day during his visit, Yungu School said on its official WeChat account. The school was founded by Ma and other Alibaba founders in the e-commerce giant’s hometown of Hangzhou in 2017.
He returned to China last week, two sources familiar with the matter said. RockedBuzz via Reuters was unable to determine how long he plans to stay in China this time.
Ma’s return “boosts sentiment for the broader platform, the Internet industry,” said Zhang Zihua, chief investment officer of Beijing Yunyi Asset Management.
“Because that means that the new leadership has actually re-examined the position and importance of platform companies in China’s economic development. The previous restrictive policies on the platform and the Internet sector should also be adjusted,” said Zhang.
Alibaba shares jumped more than 4% on news of Ma’s return before giving up some of his gains.
THE REQUEST OF THEM
Ma’s stay abroad has come to symbolize the reversal of fortune for the country’s private sector after his empire and tech industry were targets of Beijing’s regulatory crackdown.
A speech Ma gave in 2020 criticizing China’s regulatory system is commonly accepted as the spark for tighter government oversight and triggered his public retreat. At the end of 2021 he left mainland China and was photographed in Japan, Spain, Australia and Thailand.
While Chinese authorities recently said they were easing the crackdown and would support the private sector, Chinese businessmen and investors said they saw Ma’s decision to stay overseas as a factor hampering confidence.
Recognizing this, China’s new premier Li Qiang had since late last year asked Ma to return to the mainland, hoping it would boost business confidence among entrepreneurs, five sources familiar with the matter told RockedBuzz via Reuters.
Some of those efforts have involved asking people close to Ma, such as his business partners, to convince the Alibaba founder in person while he lived in Japan, two of the sources said.
RockedBuzz via Reuters was not immediately able to determine whether Ma had returned thanks to Li’s efforts.
Alibaba and the State Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Li, a close ally of President Xi Jinping, has been at the forefront of government efforts to bolster the private sector, saying earlier this month that the country’s environment for business would improve and that Beijing would treat all businesses equally. same way.
However, the companies are hesitant, privately pointing out the lack of new supportive policies and the new regulatory framework that the crackdown had brought about.
This view is shared by longtime Asian analyst Fraser Howie, who has written several books on China’s financial system.
“I can see this kind of signal signaling an easing, but none of the laws and institutions set up to control the private sector have changed,” he said.
“Private business doesn’t care because it’s already beaten. The state has won, Jack has lost control, power, wealth and will not come back.”
(Reporting by Julie Zhu, Kane Wu, Kevin Huang, and Xu Jing; Additional reporting by David Kirton, Josh Horwitz, and the Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Brenda Goh; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Muralikumar Anantharaman, and Christian Schmollinger)