Jack Ma and freedom of expression
Jack Ma, the founder of Ali Baba has become one of the richest men in China and to increase his hegemony has opened up to diversification of activities, including becoming a key player in the Chinese banking sector; In this context, the man known for his media appearances strongly criticized the Chinese financial system in front of Communist Party dignitaries in October 2020 and then mysteriously disappeared to reappear in public only in January 2021, this absence being directly linked to his criticism of Chinese banks that he accuses of wanting to control the world of Chinese electronic finance.
Before Ma’s disappearance, the consequence of this disgrace was initially the suspension in November 2020 of the IPO of Ali Baba’s financial subsidiary, the Ant Group, and the drop in Ma’s share price. Ma’s criticism and its consequences are indicative of the red line that must not be crossed between what the Party allows to be done, a certain liberal laissez faire in some cases, and what it allows to be said, a strict respect for communist precepts.
In parallel to Ma’s reappearance in January 2021, Chinese authorities have started to control and punish digital giants such as Ali Baba, but also Tencent and Baidu for violating antitrust rules. These actions aim at reminding that in China the control of the economic activity by the Party remains of higher interest than the free enterprise whatever the size of the companies.
As evidence of this, the Ant Group reached an agreement in February 2021 with the banking authorities to transfer its activities to a holding company that will be run as a bank dependent on the central banking system, even though Ma had previously criticized the functioning of this system.