BEIJING, China: After more than a year of self-imposed exile overseas, Alibaba founder Jack Ma has returned to China, allegedly due to the country's new premier, Li Qiang, reaching out to him.
After two years of the government's draconian regulatory crackdowns, the return of China's best-known entrepreneur may help to ease the concerns of its private sector, and could be a sign of support for the government's softening line towards the embattled sector, in an effort try to drive the economy, which has been harmed by three years of COVID-19 restrictions and business slow downs.
Since last year, Li, a close ally of President Xi Jinping, had begun asking the Alibaba founder to return, including by asking people close to Ma, such as his business associates, to persuade him in person while he was living in Japan, Reuters reported.
After his empire and the technology industry were targeted by Beijing's regulatory crackdown, Ma's exile abroad symbolized the decline of China's private sector.
Ma's speech in 2020 criticizing China's regulatory system was the alleged spark for the tighter government scrutiny and caused his withdrawal from public activity.
Since leaving mainland China in late 2021, Ma has been seen in photographs in various countries, including Japan, Spain, Australia and Thailand.
Meanwhile, Zhang Zihua, chief investment officer at Beijing Yunyi Asset Management, said Ma's return, "boosts the sentiment of the broader platform and internet industry," as quoted by Reuters.
"Because that means the new top leadership has indeed been re-examining the position and the importance of the platform companies in China's economic development," he added.