Jack Ma, Xi Jinping, and China's Economic Future
By cracking down on industrialists, China hopes to make its economy more technocratic, but risks economic growth and the country’s political future.
In October 2020, Jack Ma—China’s most successful entrepreneur and at one point the wealthiest person in China—split off the financial tech giant Ant Group from its parent company Alibaba in preparation for what was set to be the world’s largest ever initial public offering (IPO), valued at $37 billion. Days before the scheduled IPO, Ma took the stage in Shanghai to address a group of senior officials and former regulators, including Vice President Wang Qishan and former central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan. In a televised speech, Ma criticized China’s financial regulators and state-owned banks, suggesting that China lacked a functioning regulatory system. Beijing retaliated quickly—on the orders of President Xi Jinping himself—suspending Ant Group’s IPO, announcing an antitrust probe into the company, and introducing a new set of regulatory demands. Ma disappeared for several months and was reported missing.1 In late January 2021, he made a public appearance for a charity event; he has kept a low profile since then.2