Tech-crackdown in China: Alibaba’s Jack Ma found ‘painting watercolors’ in Japan

The tech billionaire has been living in Tokyo for six months after the fallout with the Chinese state.
Baba Tamim
Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma shares his experiences and vision of an entrepreneur at special talk session at Waseda University on April 25, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.
Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma shares his experiences and vision of an entrepreneur at special talk session at Waseda University on April 25, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.

Jun Sato/Getty Images 

Jack Ma, the founder of the $211.48 billion worth fortune Alibaba, has been located in Japan after the fallout with the Chinese communist state.

The billionaire has spent nearly six months in Japan after essentially vanishing from the public eye, according to a report by the British daily newspaper Financial Times (FT) published on Tuesday.

“The richest business leader in China has been living in central Tokyo, amid Beijing's continuing crackdown on the country's technology sector and its most powerful businessmen,” said FT.

Throughout the months that he spent in Japan with his family, Ma made frequent “trips to the US and Israel” in addition to stays at hot springs and ski resorts outside of Tokyo, FT claimed, citing sources aware of Ma's whereabouts.

Chinese multinational technology corporation Alibaba Group Holding Limited, better known as Alibaba, specializes in e-commerce, retail, the Internet, and technology.

With a net worth of $30.3 billion as of November 2022, Ma is the 36th wealthiest person in the world and the fourth-wealthiest person in China after Zhong Shanshan, Ma Huateng, and Zhang Yiming, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ma's criticism of China and his absence

Ma criticized Chinese regulators two years ago and has mostly vanished from the public eye; his businesses, e-commerce giant Alibaba and Ant, have encountered several regulatory challenges since then.

Ant's $37 billion initial public offering was canceled by Chinese regulators, which also penalized Alibaba a record $2.8 billion for antitrust violations last year.

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He had accused the state banks of a “pawnshop mentality” and called for fearless new players that could offer credit to the poor in terms of security, which led to the aforementioned actions against him.

President Xi Jinping's zero-Covid regulations have intensified this year, and Ma's absence from China corresponded with this development.

Strict lockdown of Shanghai and the nearby Yangtze river delta in April and May recently triggered widespread demonstrations. Ma lives in Hangzhou, a city close to Shanghai, where Alibaba is based.

The billionaire has dodged difficult Covid-19 quarantines placed on visitors to China, and also avoided political challenges brought on by his prior efforts to gain influence in the country's political arena.

“Painting watercolors to pass the time”

Ma has been observed abroad in a number of nations, including Spain and the Netherlands, since his dispute with Chinese officials.

FT's source, who has direct knowledge of Ma's move, claimed that he had kept a low profile, traveling with his personal chef and security and limiting his public appearances.

Ma's life is surrounded by a handful of elite members' clubs, one of which is in Tokyo's upscale Ginza sector and another of which is in the Marunouchi commercial district, which is directly across from the Imperial Palace.

Members claim that the private Ginza club has evolved into a bustling yet covert social hub for wealthy Chinese who have either moved to Tokyo or are on extended vacations.

Ma has reportedly developed a passion for collecting, according to those active in Japan's modern art scene.

According to friends close to him in China, the billionaire had to retreat from his hectic public life of jet-setting between meetings with top authorities in China and other countries.

Instead, he turned to “painting watercolors to pass the time.”

Requests for comment regarding Ma's trip to Tokyo from the Jack Ma Foundation and Ant were unanswered, noted FT.