In October last year, Ma drew the ire of Beijing for giving a daring speech in which he criticized Chinese financial regulators for stifling innovation. Soon after those remarks, Beijing suspended Ant’s $37 billion IPO in November, and since then Ma had not appeared at any public events or given any speeches. He was even replaced as a judge in a game show he helped create to promote African entrepreneurs, which Alibaba said was due to “a scheduling conflict.”

Ma’s mysterious absence, which made international headlines, stirred speculation on whether he might meet the same fate as some disappeared Chinese tycoons who later resurfaced in custody to face prosecution and jail time. The regulatory scrutiny and Ma’s unknown whereabouts had worried investors, and shaved billions of dollars off Alibaba’s market cap in recent months. On Wednesday, investors appeared to be greatly reassured, and the stock was up around 9% in trading in Hong Kong as of this writing. It eventually closed up 8.5%, adding around $60 billion to the e-commerce firm’s value.

Jack Ma appears after a mysterious absence.
Jack Ma appears after a mysterious absence.
Image: Tianmu News

Ma’s reappearance at a charity event could be a careful calculation to make the mogul look humble and win points with the government, since it’s likely that his earlier high profile and critical remarks played a role in his landing in hot water in China, where the Party has been pushing the private sector to show ever greater loyalty. The Chinese president Xi Jinping, who reportedly personally made the decision to suspend Ant’s IPO, also has repeatedly emphasized the importance of rural education as a way to get rid of poverty, which is one of the leader’s most important policy priorities.

“Recently, my colleagues and I have been studying and thinking, we have further made our determination to devote ourselves to education philanthropy,” said Ma in the speech.

It remains to be seen where else he surfaces in the coming weeks and months. Don’t expect him at virtual Davos though, where China has announced that president Xi Jinping plans to make an address next week, after bypassing the event in recent years.

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