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Jack Ma makes first trip outside China since running afoul of Beijing

Jack Ma is holidaying in Spain, according to two people familiar with his travel plans, marking the Chinese internet tycoon’s first confirmed trip outside China since he ran afoul of the country’s financial regulators late last year.

The Hong Kong-traded shares of Alibaba, Ma’s ecommerce group, rose as much as 9.2 per cent on Wednesday morning.

Ma has made only a handful of low-key appearances in China since the initial public offering of Ant Group, his online finance platform, was blocked by President Xi Jinping in November, shortly after the tycoon publicly criticised Chinese financial regulators in a speech.

Before travelling to Europe, Ma had been in Hong Kong, where he has a home, according to one of the people familiar with his itinerary, as well as another person with knowledge his movements. One of the people said Ma was spending time in Spain on his luxury yacht Zen in Port d’Andratx, Mallorca.

Ma’s overseas trip was first reported by the South China Morning Post, which is controlled by Alibaba. The Hong Kong newspaper said he was on a “study tour” of Spanish agricultural regions and businesses.

A spokesperson for Alibaba declined to comment. Ma could not be reached for comment.

Alibaba was hit with a record fine of $2.75bn in April for alleged monopoly abuses. Meanwhile, Ant Group is undergoing a central bank-ordered restructuring that could help revive its IPO plans but at a valuation below what it almost secured in November. If it had gone ahead, Ant’s $37bn planned IPO would have been the world’s largest.

Over recent months Chinese regulators have turned their focus to Didi Chuxing, the ride-hailing group, and other technology companies that control vast troves of sensitive data.

Didi angered Xi’s administration by proceeding with a $4.4bn IPO in New York despite official concerns about its data security practices. It is currently the subject of a multi-agency review of its operations and has been temporarily barred from signing up new users pending a completion of the probe.

Xi has also moved on from his regulatory scrutiny of China’s biggest private-sector technology groups to launch a broader campaign aimed at delivering “common prosperity” and reducing social inequality in the world’s second-largest economy.

The campaign has included the enforcement of strict new borrowing limits for property developers that has driven Evergrande, one of China’s largest real estate firms, to the brink of insolvency.

Ma and other leading Chinese technology entrepreneurs have pledged billions of dollars to the common prosperity campaign. In early September, Alibaba said it would contribute Rmb100bn ($15.5bn) to the effort — matching a similar pledge by its biggest rival, Pony Ma’s Tencent Group.

Ma’s first public appearance after Ant’s cancelled IPO was in January for an annual event organised by his rural education charity. At the time Ma said he and his colleagues had “become more determined to devote ourselves to education and public welfare”.


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