Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s life in Japan after falling out with China

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Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba and once China’s richest business leader, has lived in central Tokyo for nearly six months, amid Beijing’s continued crackdown on the country’s tech sector and its most powerful entrepreneurs.

Ma’s months-long stay in Japan with his family included stints at hot springs and inland ski resorts and regular trips to the United States and Israel, according to people with direct knowledge of his location.

Ma has largely disappeared from public view since he lambasted Chinese regulators two years ago, accusing state-owned banks of having a “pawnshop mentality” and calling for bold new actors to extend credit to the unsecured poor.

Since then, the two companies he founded, Ant and e-commerce group Alibaba, have faced a series of regulatory hurdles. Chinese regulators canceled Ant’s $37 billion initial public offering and fined Alibaba a record $2.8 billion for antitrust abuses last year.

Ma’s absence from China coincided with President Xi Jinping’s escalation of “Covid zero” controls this year, which triggered a severe lockdown in Shanghai and the Yangtze River Delta in April and May and sparked nationwide protests in recent years. days. Ma has a home in Hangzhou, a city close to Shanghai, where Alibaba is headquartered.

Since his disagreement with Chinese authorities, Ma has been spotted in several countries, including Spain and the Netherlands. By spending less time at home in China, the billionaire has avoided the harsh Covid-19 quarantines imposed on anyone entering the country, as well as thorny political issues stemming from his earlier effort to gain influence in the country’s corridors of power.

Ma has kept a low profile during his time in Tokyo, having brought his personal cook and security with him and keeping his public activities to a minimum, according to people close to him.

Their social activities revolve around a few private clubs, one of which is located in the Ginza district of Tokyo, and another in the financial district of Marunouchi, opposite the Imperial Palace.

The exclusive club in Ginza has become a bustling but low-key social hub for wealthy Chinese who have settled in Tokyo or are on extended visits, according to members.

People involved in Japan’s modern art scene said Ma became an enthusiastic collector. Friends of the billionaire in China said he started painting watercolors to pass the time after being forced to withdraw from his frenetic public life, traveling to meetings with officials in China and around the world.

Others said Ma used his time in Japan to expand his business interests beyond Alibaba and Ant’s core e-commerce technologies and into the field of sustainability. Overall, he has handed over the reins to a new generation of leaders at both companies.

Ma’s whereabouts have been the subject of intense speculation since the Alibaba founder was spotted on the Spanish island of Mallorca last year, according to local media reports. In July, Ma also visited a university in the Netherlands to learn about sustainable food production.

Activity at the elite executive training program at Hupan University, which he founded seven years ago, also slowed after some officials saw it as a way for Ma to widen his network.

His charity, the Jack Ma Foundation, where he pledged to dedicate his post-Alibaba years, has reduced its publicity, after years of worldwide giving, such as distributing millions of masks at the start of the pandemic, which helped the tycoon bolster his brand. global.

His last tweet was in November 2020, just as Beijing’s regulatory pressure on tech companies and entrepreneurs was starting.

Ma’s six months in Japan coincided with a historic liquidation by SoftBank of its former equity stake in Alibaba after the Japanese tech group took a heavy hit from the global tech slump earlier this year.

The Jack Ma Foundation and Ant did not respond to requests for comment on Ma’s visit to Tokyo.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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