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Jack Ma makes first appearance since October

Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma has made his first appearance since Chinese regulators cracked down on his business empire.

His absence had fuelled speculation over his whereabouts amid increasing official scrutiny of his businesses.

The billionaire met 100 rural teachers in China via a video meeting on Wednesday, according to local government media.

Alibaba shares surged 5% on Hong Kong’s stock exchange on the news.

 

Tianmu News, which is backed by the provincial Zhejiang government, first reported that Mr Ma addressed the teachers as part of one of his charity foundation’s initiatives.

The annual event is usually hosted in the resort city of Sanya, but was held online this year because of Covid-19 restrictions.

“We cannot meet in Sanya due to the epidemic,” he said in the speech.

“When the epidemic is over, we must find time to make up for everyone’s trip to Sanya, and then we will meet again!”

In the video, he was dressed in a blue pullover and spoke directly to the camera from a room with grey marble walls and a striped carpet.

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It was not clear from the video or the Tianmu News article where he was speaking from.

Regulatory scrutiny
Last month, China’s central bank hauled in executives from Ant Group and ordered a major shake-up of the company’s operations.

Mr Ma is a founder and key shareholder of Ant Group, which is China’s biggest payments provider.

Before ordering the shakeup of the company, regulators had already scuppered Ant Group’s listing on the Hong Kong and Shanghai exchanges.

The $37bn share market offering was expected to be the biggest of 2020.

Separately, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation announced an investigation into Alibaba over monopolistic practices.

Suspicions about Mr Ma’s whereabouts were raised earlier this month, when he missed the recording of Africa’s Business Heroes, a television show on which he was a judge.

Although Alibaba attributed his absence to a scheduling conflict, several media reports said he had not been seen since making comments that were seen as critical of China’s banking system at a public event in Shanghai in October.

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