Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant co-founded by Ma, on Tuesday saw its Hong Kong-listed shares fall to as much as 9.4% after Chinese state media reported that an individual named “Ma” in Hangzhou – where Alibaba headquarters is – They were arrested on the grounds of national security.
According to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, on April 25, the suspect was placed under “mandatory measures” on suspicion of “conspiracy with hostile anti-China forces abroad” for “incitement to separatism” and “incitement to undermine state power.”
The one-sentence report, which was quickly picked up by other state media and warned on Chinese news platforms, caused panic sales in Hong Kong and wiped out an estimated $ 26 billion of Alibaba’s market value in a matter of minutes.
To further allay concerns, the Global Times reported that the accused man was born in Wenzhou in 1985 (while Jack Ma was born in Hangzhou in 1964) and worked as a director of hardware research and development at an IT company. has.
The explanations led to a recovery, with Alibaba recovering most of its losses by the end of the day.
The market reaction is the latest sign of how nervous investors are in China’s controversial technology sector, which since late 2020 has been the target of the Chinese government’s severe regulatory repression.
“I thought it was a weird episode,” said Victor Shih, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. “Whether this is a kind of warning for the technology sector as a whole, or perhaps for Jack Ma personally. who knows? But it has certainly been proven that the government does not even have to arrest a top-tech manager to wipe out tens of billions of dollars from a company’s market valuation. You just have to post some kind of information. ”
“It is very powerful. And certainly what happened yesterday was a clear demonstration of that power, whether it was delivered or not. “
But the fact that investors were so quick to believe that Jack Ma, once a prominent Chinese billionaire, would go against state security authorities reveals something of the political reality in which many of China’s top businessmen now live.
The shift in public sentiment against Mom is almost as astonishing as a story of poverty to wealth. Until almost three years ago, the English teacher who became a billionaire was widely worshiped for his charisma, outspokenness and artificial success. (He was even christened “Papa Ma” by some fans.)
With technology giants falling under the sights of the Chinese government, “bad capitalists” are increasingly being blamed for many social evils, from fierce competition and rising property prices to a lack of social mobility.
“But the question is, will the overthrow of the capitalists and the expulsion of (the so-called) foreign powers improve everyone’s lives?”
Jack Ma has mostly disappeared from public life and remained out of the public eye since regulators suspended Ant Group’s U.S. stock offerings in late 2020. Once one of the most outspoken in China, he posted nothing on Weibo, where he was. He has nearly 25 million followers since October 2020.
“I will not be surprised if Ou Ma is captured one day,” reads the top comment. “You are just a capitalist! Do not pretend to be a good person! “Shouts another remark.
Jack Ma remained silent all Tuesday while rumors against him spread on the Chinese internet. Hashtags about the suspect’s arrest and of Ma were one of the most popular topics on Weibo, which attracted hundreds of millions of views.
“This kind of silence is of great importance. To a public figure, his speech itself is an ‘extension’ of his being. When a person stops talking, even though he is still alive, he is still doing things, at least a part of which has “disappeared”.