VSChinese billionaire Jack Ma, according to media quoting a CNBC journalist, is not missing but “kept a low profile” in his own headquarters in Hangzhou. It is unlikely, however, that Jack, last seen in public in late October 2020, is hiding himself. There is no immediate reason for his self-isolation unless he is critically ill or has tested positive for the dreaded coronavirus. Even if he “keeps a low profile”, it must be to avoid or dodge the Xi Jinping administration following his critical the country’s financial regulators. If this is the case, it is much more serious because it would validate the apprehensions that all is not good between the technological entrepreneur and the Chinese government.
It’s no secret that Jack Ma, a school teacher and English language graduate, was inspired and learned the ropes of business in the United States, a country his government vehemently opposes as hegemonic. His leap to success and extraordinary financial strength through his 21-year-old Alibaba group of companies was mainly due to the absence of rivals and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) concessions on economic rules and regulations. But it is also true that a section of the century-old CCP either distrusted its intentions or was uncomfortable with a wealth-hoarding business tycoon, in total violation of basic Marxist principles.
Senior CCP officials seem to be concerned about “Westernization,” the increasing use of the Internet, and the inclination towards religion among the young and old. In 2018, the State Administration for Religious Affairs, responsible for instilling the ideology of socialism, passed a rule requiring CCP members to abandon religion and be “steadfast Marxist atheists.” Xi Jinping was the head of the CPC Central Party School, which is the supreme regulatory body. Besides, one of his teachers, Cai Xia, became a bitter critic of Xi Jinping’s politics and authoritarianism, and defected to the United States. She was excluded from the party.
The Communist Party was also concerned about the growing sense of inequality among educated young people, who find it very difficult to find a balance between Marx and the market. Unable to find a solution to the growing disenchantment, the CCP sincerely feared a repeat of the Tiananmen Square incident. The party high command resorted to two quick fixes.
Change for more control
The first change was to amend the party constitution and define new rules for its cadres to call for the “withdrawal of corrupt leaders”. It was presented as being more democratic. But the rule that really changed – and was published in smaller print – was that more than 90 million party members were strictly prohibited from expressing their criticism of the CCP “in public”. Article 16 of the CCP said, “When discussing and making decisions on any matter, Party organizations must respect the principle of the subordination of the minority to the majority.” But more importantly, that hasn’t stopped members from expressing opposing views. Now, with the increase of social media, although strictly controlled and regimented by the Chinese state, Article 16 of the CCP’s Rules has been amended, prohibiting party members from publicly expressing opinions inconsistent with the decisions of the CPC Central Committee.
Ironically, the only public platforms available were those created and controlled by the Xi Jinping government. But it was probably not yet easy to contain the growing resentment and sense of deprivation, especially among the country’s educated class.
The second major damage check was to throw a investigation in the alleged “monopolistic practices” of the company of Jack Ma and its subsidiary Ant Group, which launched the online payment system “Alipay” and began to provide loans to small and medium-sized establishments, greatly stimulating private businesses . When this was frowned upon by the existing banking system, tightly controlled by some senior CCP officials, Jack Ma ridiculed them, saying they were like “pawn shops.” Angered by these remarks, he was summoned by the regulators and ordered to behave.
What awaits Jack Ma
Needless to say, the final authority of the command structure in China rests with the party’s secretary general, Xi Jinping, who is also the leader of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the president of the country, a concentration of power. and authority exercised only by Chairman Mao Zedong. After Mao’s death in 1976, his successor Deng Xiaoping, twice purged by Mao, advocated collective leadership and made systemic changes to “prevent the rise of another dictator.” Deng’s open-world policy encouraged Chinese academics and students to travel to the West and acquire technical knowledge and skills. After a first opposition, this project was adopted in the 1990s and Jack Ma can be considered as one of the main beneficiaries of this change.
The contradictions inherent in communist ideology and its inability to understand the current challenges posed by the market economy are at play in China. The leaders who were purged earlier managed to rise to the top after having “backed down” for some time. They just need to stay alive. Is Jack Ma ready to inherit Deng’s legacy? Maybe he can come back as Mikhail Gorbachev from China.
The author is the former editor of ‘Organizer’. Opinions are personal.
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