A few days after international media noticed that not only did Chinese tech tycoon Jack Ma lose much of his corporate empire and $12 billion of his net worth after criticizing the Communist Party in late October, but he also appears to have vanished from the face of the Earth, Hong Kong’s Asia Times Financial (ATF) reported Chinese state media are claiming Ma has “embraced supervision,” while Beijing’s army of Internet trolls denounces him as a greedy traitor.
ATF mentioned Ma’s complete scrubbing from a Chinese reality show he once hosted and enthusiastically represented as the detail that seems to have awakened the world to the flamboyant billionaire’s disappearance, then described how the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) media machine is turning against the man who was once hailed as a model citizen:
Meanwhile, online vitriol towards Ma has heated up (or been ramped up) dramatically. Usually known as “Uncle Horse” – as his Chinese surname ‘Ma’ means horse – he has recently been damned as a money-grabbing ‘vampire’ who exploits the poor, in state media outlets strongly criticising him, even the People’s Daily. For a tycoon acclaimed around the world for his entrepreneurial brilliance, as well as generosity and flamboyant promotional activities, that is an extraordinary turnaround.
Jack Ma is now “embracing supervision” at an undisclosed location, the CCP mouthpiece has reported.
[…] A statement in the leading state media outlet said there would be no “Jack Ma era”, and that reflects the current Chinese slogan that China is entering a ‘new era.’
ATF interpreted the claim of Ma “embracing supervision” as an indication he has been arrested – the CCP likes to portray its prisoners as instantly reticent and overwhelmed with guilt – but also quoted BDA China consultant Duncan Clark theorizing Ma has been “told to lay low” while the Chinese government dismantles his financial mega-corporation, the Ant Group.
As far back as November, shortly after Ma was summoned to a meeting with Chinese regulators, state media began describing him as an irresponsible renegade who no longer had the best interests of the people at heart. Another high-flying billionaire, Liu Qiangdong of JD.com, has been subjected to similar treatment and subsequently welcomed enhanced “supervision” from the CCP.
“If you disregard your food and make use of the policy advantages given by the state to do business that is not conducive to economic development and not beneficial to the people’s lives, you will only end up reaping the consequences,” Chinese state media said of Liu and Ma, suggesting other tycoons had better remember they owe their success entirely to the support and guidance of the Chinese state and its dictator, Xi Jinping.
Business Insider (BI) on Tuesday quoted other observers who believe Ma is keeping a low profile, perhaps under orders from the CCP, but has not been imprisoned. On the other hand, BI recalled a few other high-profile Chinese who suddenly became low-profile and later turned up in prison cells:
Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real-estate tycoon, fell off the radar in March after accusing the Communist Party of mishandling the coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reported. Beijing later sentenced Ren, 69, to 18 years in prison.
The country reportedly arrested other critics of its response to the pandemic, including Xu Zhangrun, a law professor, and Zhang Xuezhong, a human-rights lawyer.
Xiao Jianhua, an asset manager, was abducted from a hotel in Hong Kong in January 2017, Reuters reported. Xiao disappeared into Chinese custody, and the country later seized parts of his company, Tomorrow Group, The Times reported in July. Regulators had accused Xiao and other tycoons of taking would-be investors away from Chinese stock markets, The Guardian said.
Perhaps the most shocking example to date was Meng Hongwei, the former head of the Interpol international law enforcement agency, who vanished while returning home to China from a trip to France and reappeared as a prison convict a few months later, sentenced to 13 and a half years in prison on charges of bribery. His wife believes Meng was another victim of the endless “anti-corruption” crusade that serves the CCP as a rolling political purge.