No longer the Jack Ma we once knew.

After being photographed in various countries, Jack Ma is now back in China.

The news of Ma’s return to China came out on 27 March. The next day, Alibaba Group announced that it will split into six major subsidiaries, with each raising its own funds and seeking its own opportunities for listing, in the largest restructuring of Alibaba in its 24-year history.

Ma said that technologies such as ChatGPT have brought challenges to education, but this is just the beginning of the AI era. He noted, “We should use artificial intelligence to solve problems, rather than being controlled by it. Although humans cannot match machines in terms of physical and mental abilities, machines only have a ‘chip’, while humans have a ‘heart’.”

Ma further said that teaching is his favorite job and he hopes to teach again one day, having previously taught English.

It is easy to see why the media rushed to report on Ma’s return to China after all his travels: the Chinese government is currently trying to restore confidence in Chinese private enterprises, and investors would naturally be interested in what would entail with Ma’s return as he is a representative figure of private enterprises.

After Ma’s public criticism of Chinese banks and regulatory agencies at the Bund Forum in Shanghai in 2020, Ant Group’s Hong Kong and Shanghai IPOs were halted. Regulatory agencies also investigated Alibaba for alleged monopolistic practices, eventually imposing a heavy penalty of 18.2 billion RMB (US$2.8 billion).

Subsequently, the Chinese government also launched a regulatory crackdown on other private enterprises, from the technology and gaming industries to education and real estate, and tightened control across the board. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic also dealt a severe blow to private enterprises.

The once-mighty giants saw their stock prices plunge by more than 50%.

This was when Ma also toned down his outspoken personality and gradually faded from the public eye. But over the past year, the Financial Times and South China Morning Post have made several reports on Jack Ma being “spotted” in places such as Japan and Thailand.

Although many people see Ma’s return as a sign of spring for private enterprises, there are also views that he is now an outsider in the private sector after being out of the public eye for two years.

However, this “outsider” who once did not hesitate to talk about the Chinese financial system may no longer be able to represent private enterprises to criticize China’s financial regulatory agencies after his return. Even if he can muster his ability to speak freely, the impact of his comments may be limited.

Editor’s Note: Read full article. This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as “马云云游各国后回国”.

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