On the 20th of January, Jack Ma, who was missing for weeks finally made an appearance, that too, via a video posted by the Chinese state media. The business tycoon had been mysteriously missing after he made disparaging statements against Communist-ruled China’s government and was reported off the radar by several Chinese run media outlets. After his comments, China had suspended the much-anticipated IPO of his company, ANT Group as well.
While speculations were rife about China suspending the IPO of Ant Group due to the public comments made by Jack Ma against the Chinese regime, reports now indicate that there could a political tussle brewing beneath the surface. According to a report by Wall Street Journal, the Ant IPO was suspended by China because it stood to benefit those who could possibly mount a political challenge to President Xi Jinping.
The Wall Street Journal report said, “Behind layers of opaque investment vehicles that own stakes in the firm are a coterie of well-connected Chinese power players, including some with links to political families that represent a potential challenge to President Xi and his inner circle”.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, it becomes evident that the sweeping clampdown against the business interests of Jack Ma is not only the result of the comments he made but also a result of President Xi Jinping’s autocratic propensity to ensure that no political opposition ever blooms in the country.
According to the WSJ report, one of Ant’s investors is Boyu Capital, a private-equity firm founded in part by Jiang Zhicheng. Jiang Zhicheng is the grandson of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. Another is Li Botan, who controls the Beijing Zhaode Group, which has invested in Ant through three layers of investment vehicles, the report said. Li is the son-in-law of Jia Qinglin, a senior leader who served on the top Politburo Standing Committee for ten years until 2012 and is close to Jiang.
It is pertinent to note that in 2015, Xi Jinping had used People’s Daily to send a message out to Jiang Zemin to stop meddling in politics. At the time, it was reported that Xi’s drive against corruption has essentially trapped and made irrelevant a long list of senior officials, many of whom were Jiang’s close allies, including former security tsar Zhou Yongkang , and Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong , both of whom were vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission. At the time, it was believed that Xi Jinping might not really purge Zemin and his followers, however, the current fiasco with Jack Ma is a clear indication that Jinping is not willing to accept any form of political rivalry or challenge to his hegemony.
It is pertinent to note that Xi Jinping has ridden himself of several political rivals through action taken behind the mask of his anti-corruption clean-up. However, it is reported by WSJ that certain political rivals who do work from behind the scenes can pose a challenge in the future and the suspension of Jack Ma’s IPO is seen as yet another move to shut down political dissent.
Jack Ma and his criticism of Xi Jinping, China
Ma had gone on a tirade against China’s current banking system, the financial regulatory structure of the Communist-ruled country and how it was unsuitable for his fintech giant, Ant group. Ma’s critical remarks for the Communist regime, which demands nothing more than complete and utter obedience, terminated the planned IPO of his fintech giant, Ant Group, on November 3, just two days before it was scheduled to begin trading.
Days after his unflattering opinion of the Chinese authorities, Ma was summoned to a meeting with Communist Party officials. His other venture, Alibaba is also under investigation for monopolistic behaviour, as per a statement released by the Chinese Communist Party’s market supervision arm.
On the 20th of January, Jack Ma made his first ever public appearance since October 2020.
Earlier, reports had emerged that Jack Ma has been ’embracing supervision’ at an unknown location. However, Duncan Clark, the chairman of BDA China, said that he does not believe that Jack Ma was under custody.
Ma’s disappearance from the public sphere is a part of a bigger design by the CCP to exact compliance and loyalty from individuals who hold great sway in shaping public opinion. It is pertinent to note that Jack Ma is not the first high-profile man to have disappeared into thin air.