Economy & Politics

Comment Jack Ma – brought into line

Jack Ma has not appeared in public for monthsimago images / Xinhua

The fate of the “sudden disappearance” usually overtakes political dissidents and journalists in China. The artist Ai Weiwei was arrested at the airport in spring 2011 and disappeared for two months. Journalists who reported on the outbreak of the pandemic in Wuhan are also “gone”. That this could affect perhaps the most successful businessman in the country is still astonishing – and shows again very clearly what politics and business in this country are so keen to ignore: China is not a constitutional state, the Communist Party governs, if it has to, with Arbitrariness.

Ma actually sits on the jury of the talent show he founded “Africa’s Business Heroes”. The final of the show, recorded in November, was recorded without him. In the meantime it has also disappeared from the website, as the “Financial Times” recently found out. China’s tech billionaire has also become silent on Twitter and Chinese social media channels like Weibo.

One can roughly imagine what is happening to Ma at the moment. The assumption is that he will have to spend some time with Beijing’s top executives in order to be brought ideologically in line. Because that usually includes the “disappearance” in China.

China’s shadow banks

Ma had probably messed with the wrong people in October – that is, China’s banking regulator. At the Bund Summit in Shanghai, Ma spoke just a few hours after Wang Qishan, who is considered the father of the current Chinese banking system. Ma spoke out against the numerous regulations and in favor of a new world financial system. “China has no systemic financial risk because China has no financial system,” Ma said among others. “We have to prevent disaster by creating a functioning financial system.” Shortly thereafter, the IPO of the Ant Group he founded was surprisingly called off by the authorities.

Basically, the point is that Ant Financial is threatening the business model of the state banks. The country has a problem that nobody knows exactly how big it is. State banks are particularly happy to give loans to state-owned companies – because there is virtually no risk of default for them. Because of this, however, small and medium-sized companies repeatedly have major problems making money. As an emergency solution, many have resorted to “gray loans”, private lenders who lend money at high interest rates. As a result, a gigantic network of shadow banks has emerged over the years, the actual extent of which is unknown.

Purified and dumb

On the one hand, Ant Financial’s lending platforms attack the existing banking system, in which they better supply small and medium-sized companies with money. On the other hand, banking regulators fear that a debt bubble is beyond their control. In addition, there were probably Mas provocative statements.

If Ma’s disappearance follows the usual pattern, the billionaire will reappear after a few weeks – purified and dumb. He will then no longer play a role in the operational business of his companies, and will only speak publicly to praise the Communist Party. The fact that politicians from Berlin, Paris and Brussels are now celebrating a trade agreement with the regime (in which Beijing expressly opposed the condemnation of forced labor) has less to do with realpolitik than with cynicism.


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