Jack Ma makes rare public appearance in China

Ma visits Hangzhou Yungu School in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China in this handout picture released on March 27, 2023. — Hangzhou Yungu School/Handout via Reuters

SHANGHAI: Jack Ma, the founder of tech giant Alibaba, made a rare public appearance in China on March 27 after his fall from grace during a government crackdown over two years ago.

Ma has kept a low profile since late 2020, when a speech he made attacking Chinese regulators was followed by Beijing pulling Alibaba affiliate Ant Group’s planned IPO.

A record fine of US$2.75bil fine was then imposed on the company for alleged unfair practices.

Ma has been spotted around the world over the past two years, including on the Spanish island of Mallorca, and was reportedly living in Japan for much of 2022.

But on Monday he visited a school founded by Alibaba partners in the eastern city of Hangzhou, according to a post on the school’s official social media account.

Ma, a former English teacher, met staff and toured classrooms before talking about the challenges artificial intelligence (AI) might pose to education.

“ChatGPT and similar technologies are just the beginning of the AI era. We should use artificial intelligence to solve problems instead of being controlled by it,” the post quoted Ma as saying.

Ma was one of the most high-profile targets of a crackdown by officials on alleged anti-competitive practices by some of China’s biggest names in tech, driven by fears that major Internet firms controlled too much data and had expanded too quickly.

Ant Group said in January Ma had ceded control of the fintech company, adjusting its ownership structure so that “no shareholder, alone or jointly with other parties, will have control over Ant Group”.

In a sign that the official grip may now be loosening, authorities said in December Ant had won approval to raise 10.5bil yuan (US$1.5bil) for its consumer finance arm. – AFP

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