Tech

Jack Ma Leaves China for the First Time Since Regulatory Woes Began

SINGAPORE—

Jack Ma,

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.


BABA 6.10%

’s billionaire co-founder, is traveling outside of China for the first time since his business empire came under regulatory scrutiny about a year ago, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Ma, who recently briefly spent time in Hong Kong, is now in Europe to see friends, taste wines and conduct business meetings, the people said. He arrived in Spain this week and boarded a yacht from the Balearic Islands and is expected to travel to other European countries, they said. While Mr. Ma’s schedule is fluid, he is expected to return to China next month, according to one of the people.

This is Mr. Ma’s first time overseas after the government suspended last November the blockbuster public offering of Ant Group, the financial-technology giant Mr. Ma controls, the people said.

The trip suggests that Mr. Ma is safe and that he isn’t banned by Chinese authorities from leaving the country. Authorities often block individuals from leaving China, at times to seek their help on investigations, in a practice called “exit ban” that has affected government officials and company executives.

The Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The trip was reported earlier by the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.

Mr. Ma has kept a low profile since Ant called off its initial public offerings in Hong Kong and Shanghai that were on track to raise more than $34 billion. The cancellation came after Mr. Ma’s speech at a financial forum drew the ire of regulators. Regulators subsequently launched a probe into Alibaba for alleged anticompetitive behaviors on its e-commerce platform and later hit the company with a record $2.8 billion fine.

Speculation has grown over Mr. Ma’s safety, though he has made several public appearances in mainland China. The 57-year-old has exchanged a wall-to-wall schedule of global business travel and meetings with world leaders for remaining in China, playing golf and learning oil painting, The Wall Street Journal has reported.

During a philanthropic event with 100 teachers in January, Mr. Ma said via a video link that business entrepreneurs should “work hard for rural revitalization and common prosperity,” referring to a catchphrase of President Xi Jinping’s plan to promote social equality. Alibaba later said it would spend 100 billion yuan, equivalent to about $15.7 billion, by 2025 in support of the common-prosperity campaign.

Alibaba also actively opened up its services to rivals after authorities urged internet companies to stop blocking app users from accessing others’ services. The e-commerce giant started allowing users to purchase items on some of its apps via

WeChat

Pay, the payments service run by its rival Tencent Holdings Ltd.

Meanwhile, Ant is also working to transfer some of its Alipay app-based financial services to another of its apps, called Ant Fortune, after regulators asked financial technology companies to delink their broader suites of financial products and services from core payments platforms, the Journal has reported.

On Tuesday, a senior Chinese central bank official was quoted as saying by state media that about half of the roughly 1,000 financial problems that authorities have found at 14 internet platforms—including Ant—have already been resolved.

Guo Shuqing,

Communist Party chief of the People’s Bank of China, said authorities have received mostly positive responses from companies dealing with the issues, according to reports by Xinhua News Agency and other media.

“More significant substantive progress will be made before the end of this year,” Mr. Guo, also China’s top banking and insurance regulator, was quoted as saying in an interview.

Write to Keith Zhai at [email protected]

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