It could be shocking for the world, but not for China perhaps. Remember that CNN report which claimed that every year over 5,00,000 elderly persons go missing in China? Well, that’s a whole different story indeed. But look at the Chinese government response to the reports of Alibaba founder and multibillionaire Jack Ma going missing. Seemingly, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its supremo Xi Jinping give two hoots about the disappearance of people, be it the common man or the business tycoons. Fair and square?
According to the UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), China is all set to overtake the United States to become the world’s largest economy by 2028. Even though the world believes that the entrepreneurs and industrialists are the real forces behind China’s thumping economy, the communist rulers leave nothing to chance in patronising them. Those who dare to speak against the authorities are sucked into a whirlpool of Chinese opaque and immune prosecution system.
56-year-old Jack Ma vanished from public view in October 2020. That was soon after he called for reforms in China’s financial system and slammed the regulators for operating with a ‘pawnshop’ mentality. His controversial speech on 24 October in Shanghai though ruffled a few feathers in the ruling dispensation, and the maverick founder of e-commerce behemoth paid a price for this.
Unsurprisingly, the Communist Party officials and Chinese regulators came down heavily on Jack Ma empire, suspending the $37 billion IPO of his fintech company Ant Group, just two days before its scheduled debut in November.
It goes without saying that the clampdown would not have been possible without a nod from the top. The CCP’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, came close to admitting to it, saying Jack was ’embracing supervision’ at an undisclosed location, but expunged the report soon after publishing it online.
The speculations over Jack Ma’s disappearance grew stronger after he failed to appear on the finale of a talent show ‘Africa’s Business Heroes’ in November. An executive from his company instead attended it as a judge, providing no plausible reason for it.
Outside China, the speculations swirled thick and fast, but in the Dragonland, due to media censorship and state control over social media, the absence was not noticed speedily.
Sadly a campaign is underway in China to malign Ant group owner Jack Ma. According to The Asia Times Financial, the online vilification against him has intensified in the last month with a flood of websites emerging shortly.
The websites are demonising Jack Ma as a money-grabbing ‘vampire’ exploiting the poor, even the state media groups are slowly turning up the heat on him.
In the backdrop of China’s horrifying past and disappearance of other businessmen and celebrities, while concerns have grown over his whereabouts, media reports also claim that Jack Ma is just ‘lying low’ at his headquarters in Hangzhou, waiting for the government’s ire to dissipate.
Because after scrapping Ant’s IPO, authorities have also launched a probe into alleged anti-competitive practices at Alibaba. Reportedly, the government has also pressured the group into capping loans to small and medium establishments via ‘Alipay’ online payment system.
Notably, this payment system had upset the existing banking system in the country, which is controlled by some top officials of the Chinese Communist Party, who are now angry that Jack Ma labelled them as ‘pawnshops’ owners.
Alibaba chief Jack Ma is China’s richest person. His meteoric rise to fame from the humdrum life of a school teacher is awe-inspiring. But once a ‘Daddy Ma’ for the people of China has become a ‘villain’, an ‘evil capitalist’ and a ‘bloodsucking ghost’ for them. Why?
It’s a well-known fact that Jack Ma implemented a business practice in communist China that he mastered in the capitalist U.S. He ascent to glory in the last 21 years has roots in China’s economic policy and the absence of rivals in the country.
Now Jack Ma’s tech giants Alibaba and Ant are accused of ‘killing’ competition in mainland China amassing wealth, which goes against the core principle of the Chinese Communist Party and its people. Because China may have more billionaires than the U.S and India together, it also has about 600 million people who earn $150 (Rs 11,020) or less per month.
With the flamboyant tycoon now crossing the line, the ruling CCP has got an opportunity to show him his place. And having acquired all three leadership roles – head of the party, military and state – Xi Jinping wields all the power to rein in Ma (means horse in Chinese).
From ’embracing supervision’, to ‘house arrest’ and ‘lying low’, while all sorts of speculation are doing the rounds after Jack Ma’s disappearance, one only hopes he has not met the fate of the Chinese dissidents of the past.