Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, who went missing for more than a couple of months, finally made his first public appearance on Wednesday. The English-teacher-turned-entrepreneur behind Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba made a public appearance at a rural teacher-themed social welfare event via a video link, according to media reports.
Ma's sudden absence from public eye had given rise to speculation about his whereabouts following the intense scrutiny on his business empire. Speculation was even rife that he may have been detained or under house arrest amid continuous challenges faced by his tech empire from Chinese regulators who are making efforts to rein in internet-based monopolies.
Finally in Public View
Ma, on Wednesday, attended the Jack Ma Rural Teachers Award ceremony via a video link. The business tycoon during the conference met with 100 rural teachers from across China. Ma is shown speaking to teachers in rural China and giving them pep talk. The award ceremony also coincides with the Chinese holiday the Laba Festival.
"We'll meet again when the [COVID-19] epidemic is over!" Ma is heard saying in the video, according to Tianmu News, a news site in East China's Zhejiang Province where Alibaba is headquartered.
Sharing the video, Chinese state-affiliated media Global Times tweeted: "Jack Ma not disappear, here we go: Ma just had a video conference with 100 village teachers on Wednesday morning, saying: after COVID19, we'll meet each other again." The video also shows footage of Ma visiting an elementary school in Hangzhou city earlier this month.
No End to Speculation
Alibaba's shares in the Hong Kong market swiftly extended gains, surging to over 6 percent around 1pm on Wednesday. That said, although Ma finally made a public appearance to put an end to speculation over his sudden disappearance, not much is still known about his whereabouts. In fact, it's not known from where he joined the video conference and if it was from somewhere outside China.
Ma had been maintaining a low profile and did not make a public appearance or social media post since late October. Coincidently, it happened just a few days before his company Ant Group was about to launch one of the world's biggest IPOs worth $37 billion in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
The IPO was blocked at the last minute by Chinese regulators, and his companies have since been targeted as part of an escalating crackdown on tech by Beijing. In fact, there were also reports that Ma may have already been arrested or placed under house arrest, with the Chinese government tightlipped about his whereabouts. Chinese authorities are infamous for not revealing information on arrests of prominent personalities.