Jack Ma goes on first foreign tour since China crackdown

Jack Ma, China’s billionaire and founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, has travelled to Europe for an agriculture study tour, his first trip abroad since he ran into trouble with the Chinese government last year over violating anti-monopoly regulations.

Before flying to Europe, Ma was in Hong Kong to spend low-key ”private time’ with his family, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, which is owned by him, reported on Wednesday.

Jack Ma is currently in Spain for an agriculture and technology study tour related to environmental issues, it said.

He will be in Europe for a series of business meetings and an agriculture study tour. It will be his first overseas trip in more than a year. Previously, Ma spent one of every three days travelling in 2018, the Post report said.

Ma retired as Alibaba’s chairman in 2019 on his 55th birthday, sparking speculation about his sudden decision to step down from the helm.      

”He is lying low right now,” his close associate Joseph Tsai, executive vice-chairman of Alibaba said during the height of the crackdown against the firm, refuting speculative reports about his prolonged absence from public.

Alibaba went through a stormy 2020, with Ma being summoned by national regulators after he likened traditional Chinese banks to ”pawn shops” and questioned whether the Basel Accords — a set of global banking regulatory recommendations — were suitable for China.

In December, Beijing launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba and slapped a record fine of USD 2.8 billion on the tech giant for monopolistic practices.

Alibaba suffered a major setback last year after the Shanghai Stock Exchange suspended dual listing of the shares of the world’s biggest initial public offer of USD 39.7 billion of the group’s subsidiary – the Ant Group, 48 hours before the highly-anticipated trading was due to start.

Born in a poor family, Ma, grew up to be one of the country’s richest men and the most revered businessman among the Chinese people.

The sudden and surprise announcement by Ma in 2019 to retire stating that he preferred to die at a beach than at his work table set off speculation that he was feeling the weight of the ruling Communist Party of China, which firmly exercised its control over China’s top businesses prompting him to downsize his business. 

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