Chinese billionaire and e-commerce giant Alibaba founder Jack Ma who ran into trouble with the Chinese government over violating anti-monopoly regulations and kept a low profile since 2020 is now living in Tokyo for about six months, according to a media report on Tuesday.
Ma’s months-long stay in Japan with his family has included stints in hot springs and ski resorts in the countryside outside Tokyo and regular trips to the US and Israel, the Financial Times reported, quoting people with direct knowledge of his whereabouts.
Ma, 58, has largely disappeared from public view since he criticised the Chinese regulators in 2020, accusing the state-run banks of having a “pawnshop mentality” and calling for bold new players that can extend credit to the collateral poor.
Since then, both the companies he founded — Ant and e-commerce group Alibaba — have faced a series of regulatory obstacles.
Chinese regulators called off Ant’s blockbuster USD 37 billion initial public offering and fined Alibaba a record USD 2.8 billion for antitrust abuses last year.
His absence from China has coincided with the escalation of President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid controls this year. This led to a harsh lockdown of Shanghai and the surrounding Yangtze river delta in April and May and sparked nationwide protests over recent days, the report said.
Before his troubles with the Chinese government, Ma had visited India, where his Alibaba developed business interests, and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015.
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Ma has a home in Hangzhou, a city near Shanghai where Alibaba is headquartered. Since his fallout with Chinese authorities, Ma has been spotted in various countries, including Spain and the Netherlands.
Born to a poor family, Ma, who is the most revered businessman among Chinese people, grew up to be one of China’s richest men.
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 (CPC), which firmly exercised its control over China’s top businesses prompting him to downsize his businesses.
His retirement and the subsequent anti-monopoly crackdown by the CPC on a host of Chinese businesses, including Tencent and ByteDance, sparked speculation that the party headed by Xi is cutting wealthy businesses to size to reduce their growing influence in China.
Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post owned by Ma has recently reported that wealthy Chinese were looking for avenues to migrate after Xi won the third five-year term in last month’s once-in-a-five-year Congress of the CPC, fearing crackdowns against them.
A growing number of rich Chinese and even the middle class are paying for residence and citizenship through investment, which offers them location fluidity and the option to relocate at any given moment between two or more “home” nations, the Post report said.
Ma was spotted on the Spanish island of Mallorca last year. He has kept a low profile during his stay in Tokyo, bringing his personal chef and security with him and keeping his public activities to a minimum, said the people with direct knowledge of his whereabouts, the FT report said.
His social activities centre around a small handful of private members’ clubs, with one based in the heart of Tokyo’s swish Ginza district and another in the Marunouchi financial district facing the Imperial Palace.
Others said Ma had used his time in Japan to expand his business interests beyond the core e-commerce technologies of Alibaba and Ant, and into the fields of sustainability. He has largely turned over the reins to a new generation of leaders at both companies.
Ma’s six months in Japan have coincided with a historic sell-down by SoftBank of its long-term shareholding in Alibaba after the Japanese technology group suffered a heavy hit from a global tech rout earlier this year. The Jack Ma Foundation and Ant did not respond to requests for comment regarding his visit to Tokyo, the report said.