In a strange incident, the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has reportedly disappeared from the African talent show that he created, signalling the increasing difficulty he is facing currently for taking on Chinese President Xi Jinping.
According to the reports, Jack Ma was replaced as a judge in the final of Africa’s Business Heroes, a television contest for budding entrepreneurs and his photograph was removed from the judging webpage. Apparently, he has also been conspicuously left out of a promotional video.
The grand finale of show ‘Africa’s Business Heroes’ took place in November, shortly after the Chinese tech billionaire had criticised China’s regulators and its state-owned banks.
Following his speech, the Communist Party of China had reacted strongly against Jack Ma’s statements, leading to the suspension of Jack Ma’s $37bn initial public offering of his company Ant Group by the Chinese authorities. Following the suspension of the IPO, Jack Ma has not made any public appearance. The authorities have also announced anti-monopoly investigations into Alibaba.
Amidst action by Chinese authorities, Jack Ma is replaced by Lucy Peng
A spokesperson for Alibaba, which was founded by Ma, said, “Due to a schedule conflict Mr Ma could no longer be part of the finale judge panel of Africa’s Business Heroes earlier this year (2020)”. However, this explanation is not believed by several. It is unthinkable that he would give up on a program of which he was the face due to a scheduling conflict.
As Syed Akbaruddin observed, this is like Amitabh Bachchan not hosting Kaun Banega Crorepati due to a ‘scheduling conflict’, indicating that there was more to Ma’s absence than meets the eye.
Question for China experts.
— Syed Akbaruddin (@AkbaruddinIndia) January 2, 2021
One of the contestants participating in the competition had said she had been star-struck when she pitched her business to Ma in an earlier round. “You can’t imagine,” she said.
However, by the time of the final, Ma had been replaced by Lucy Peng, an executive at Alibaba. “There was something going on in China with Jack Ma or something, so (Lucy) also came in as well,” the contestant said.
Jack Ma’s souring relationship with the Chinese govt
The 56-year-old Jack Ma was once a poster boy for the communist regime, however, the relationship turned sour after he became more vocal against Chinese leadership. Ma is said to have made around £35billion from creating Alibaba, the Asian version of Amazon.
Despite being one of China’s most successful businessmen, Ma has been clashing with the regime over his call for more of an open and market-driven economy. The English teacher turned business magnate is viewed as a rock star in the country that has pushed the Chinese leadership to be fearful about the billionaire’s influence.
China, under President Xi Jinping, has been ruthless against its critics and has unleashed a drive to arrest all the dissidents of the regime. In March a property tycoon had disappeared after he called President Xi Jinping a ‘clown’ for his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Ren Zhiqiang a billionaire financier, was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he ‘voluntarily and truthfully confessed’ to various crimes of corruption.
Similarly, Xian Jianhua, a billionaire financier, was snatched from a Hong Kong hotel in 2017 and taken to the mainland.