Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant Ma co-founded, saw its Hong Kong-listed shares plunge 9.4% on Tuesday after Chinese state media reported that a person named “Ma” in Hangzhou – where Alibaba is headquartered – had been arrested. National security reasons.
According to China’s state broadcaster CCTV, the suspect was placed under “compulsory measures” on April 25 on suspicion of “collusion with hostile anti-China forces abroad” for “inciting separatism” and “inciting the weakening of state power.”
The one-sentence report, which was quickly picked up and alerted by other state media on Chinese news platforms, sparked a sales panic in Hong Kong, wiping out an estimated $26 billion from Alibaba’s market value in a matter of minutes. .
To further allay concerns, the Global Times reported that the accused was born in 1985 in Wenzhou (while Jack Ma was born in 1964 in Hangzhou) and worked as a director of hardware research and development at an IT company.
The clarification drove up prices, with Alibaba recouping most of its losses by the end of the day.
The market reaction is the latest sign of how anxious investors are in China’s tech sector, which has been the target of a harsh regulatory crackdown by the Chinese government since late 2020.
“I thought it was a strange episode,” said Victor Shih, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. “Whether it’s some sort of wake-up call for the tech industry as a whole, or maybe Jack Ma personally. Who knows? But it sure has been proven that the government doesn’t even need to arrest a high-end tech executive to erase tens of billions of dollars from a company’s market valuation. Just posting some kind of information.”
“This is very powerful. And what happened yesterday was definitely a clear indication of that power, whether it was delivered or not.”
But the fact that investors were quick to believe that Jack Ma, once a prominent Chinese billionaire, would clash with state security officials reveals something of the political reality in which many of China’s top businessmen now live.
The shift in public sentiment against Ma is almost as impressive as a tale from poverty to riches. Until nearly three years ago, the English teacher-turned-billionaire was widely loved for his charisma, straightforwardness, and artificial success. (He was even called “Papa Ma” by some fans.)
With tech giants falling into the crosshairs of the Chinese government, “bad capitalists” are increasingly being blamed for many social ills, from fierce competition and skyrocketing 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 life?”
Jack Ma has completely disappeared from public life and has been out of sight since regulators suspended Ant Group’s US stock bid in late 2020. Once among the most outspoken of China, he hasn’t posted anything on Weibo, where he had nearly 25 million followers as of From October 2020.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the old mother gets arrested one day,” the top comment read. “You’re just a capitalist! Don’t pretend you’re a good person!” another comment shouted.
Jack Ma remained silent throughout Tuesday as rumors swirled against him on the Chinese internet. Hashtags about the suspect’s detention and the surname Ma are among the most trending topics on Weibo, attracting hundreds of millions of views.
This kind of silence is of profound importance. For a public figure, his speech in itself is an “extension” of his being. When a person stops talking, even though he is alive, he is still doing things, at least part of it.” “to fade.”