Jack Ma makes his first public appearance in months

Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, resurfaced in a video published online by Chinese state media. Ma had not made a public appearance or social media post since late October. CNN's Selina Wang reports.

Posted: Jan 22, 2021 9:40 AM
Updated: Jan 22, 2021 9:40 AM

Jack Ma just made his first public appearance in months as his tech empire continues to face scrutiny from Chinese regulators.

The billionaire co-founder of Alibaba resurfaced Wednesday, in a video published by Chinese state media. He was shown speaking to teachers in rural China as part of a philanthropic event.

The video was published online by Tianmu News, a subsidiary of the Zhejiang government's official newspaper. Zhejiang province is home to Hangzhou, the city where Alibaba is based.

Ma had not made a public appearance or social media post since late October, just over a week before Alibaba's financial affiliate Ant Group was scheduled to list on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges. 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.

Alibaba's Hong Kong-listed shares surged 8.5% on Wednesday after the video was published. The gains helped the stock notch its best day since last July, helping to erase some of the losses that have piled up since Ant Group's IPO was pulled. The stock also powered a broader rally in Chinese tech stocks that trade in Hong Kong.

Alibaba's New York-listed stock popped 5.5%.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Alibaba referred CNN Business to a statement released by the Jack Ma Foundation, his philanthropic organization. The foundation said that Ma participated in an online award ceremony Wednesday for teachers called the Rural Teacher Initiative, which it created.

Ma, a former English teacher, has made education a priority for his foundation, which he has devoted more time to since retiring from Alibaba in 2019.

In the video, which Tianmu News said was filmed Wednesday morning, Ma is shown telling teachers that the traditional in-person celebration for the teaching initiative had been canceled because of Covid-19.

"We'll meet again after the epidemic is over," Ma said in the video. It also showed footage of Ma that it said was taken during a visit to an elementary school in Hangzhou earlier this month.

Ma's whereabouts have been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks. As Ant Group was preparing for the world's largest initial public offering last fall, Ma accused authorities of stifling innovation and blasted the country's banks for having a "pawn shop" mentality. Within days, regulators summoned Ma and Ant executives to a meeting and then shelved the IPO altogether.

The event in Shanghai where Ma made those remarks was the last time he was seen in public before Wednesday — a notable absence for a man who typically has no issue with the spotlight.

Alibaba is China's most famous tech company but it faces a host of challenges that risk fundamentally changing it forever. Chinese authorities are investigating the company on antitrust grounds, while also pushing its sprawling financial affiliate, Ant Group, to overhaul its business.

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