Jack Ma is on a study tour of agriculture in Europe as Alibaba’s founder travels abroad for the first time in more than a year

  • Ma, who retired as Alibaba’s chairman on his 55th birthday, is in Spain for a study tour, according to a person familiar with his itinerary
  • Before flying to Europe, Ma was in Hong Kong to spend low-key “private time” with his family, said the source who declined to be named

Jack Ma, the co-founder and former chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, is currently in Europe for a series of business meetings, as the entrepreneur who spent one of every three days travelling in 2018 made his first overseas trip in more than a year.

Ma, who retired as Alibaba’s chairman on his 55th birthday, is currently in Spain for a study tour of the agricultural industry and technology related to the environment, according to a person familiar with his itinerary. Before flying to Europe, Ma was in Hong Kong to spend low-key “private time” with his family, according to the source who declined to be named.

Spokespeople of Alibaba, the owner of this newspaper, declined to comment on Ma’s trip because he has not been involved with the company’s daily operations since his retirement in September 2019.

Still, Ma’s trip to Hong Kong marked a significant development for Alibaba, whose globe-trotting co-founder was also the company’s most active ambassador and evangelist for the merits of e-commerce and globalisation. The Hangzhou-based company was under scrutiny by China’s antitrust regulators for almost a year, and was slapped with a record 18.2 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) penalty in April for monopolistic behaviour.

Jack Ma made an appearance on the campus of Alibaba Group Holding in the Zhejiang provincial capital of Hangzhou on May 10, 2021. Photo: NetEase


“This is a clear indication that the [Chinese] regulators have resolved their issues with Alibaba,” said Cherry Lai, who has spent HK$4 million over a decade shopping on Alibaba’s Taobao e-commerce platform, in addition to being an Alibaba shareholder. News about Ma’s recent activities “provide a lot of certainty to the future development of Alibaba”, she said.

Alibaba’s stock, down 35 per cent in New York and Hong Kong since December 2020, has risen 20 per cent since late September amid optimism that the Chinese government’s scrutiny of the company’s business practices is drawing to an end.

Alibaba was hailed in a commentary piece by the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper People’s Daily for the development of its home-grown general purpose central processing unit (CPU), the Yitian 710. The chip is likely to boost the company’s cloud computing operation, China’s self-reliance efforts in semiconductors and help in the roll-out of digital infrastructure nationwide.

“More and more Chinese enterprises have stepped forward to invest in science and technology” to address the “choke points of technology”, the newspaper said in a post on China’s microblogging site Weibo. “In the Long March towards technology self sufficiency, we hope more Chinese businesses and social organisations can join the great course of innovation.”

Regulatory scrutiny of Alibaba began last Christmas Eve, nearly two months after securities regulators foiled the US$39 billion dual listing of the company’s Ant Group affiliate in Shanghai and Hong Kong in early November, 48 hours before shares were expected to commence trading.

Ever since, Ma had stayed out of the limelight, appearing only via video conferences and showing up in public on fewer than a handful of occasions. Ma showed up at Alibaba’s Hangzhou campus in May during the company’s annual open day for employees and their family members.

Ma could not be reached for comment. “He’s lying low right now,” said Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s co-founder and chairman of SCMP Publishers, during a June 15 interview with CNBC, adding that his business partner spends most of his time painting. “I talk to him every day.”

Author: Enoch Yiu, SCMP

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