What is Jack Ma most afraid of these days?
The fearless Alibaba Group chairman, who often offers interesting comments, seems to be trying to distance himself from Chinese actress Vicky Zhao Wei, who was recently barred from trading on the mainland stock market for five years by China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC).
In the aftermath of the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Ma told the Beijing News that he has not met Zhao more than 10 times and half of those occasions were at charity events.
“I am curious why we are always put together [by the media]. I don’t get it,” he was quoted as saying. “Later when we read the news and realized – with strong evidence – that it was manipulated by others.”
According to the earlier mainland media report, a smear campaign named Project 701 was allegedly mounted by a former new media manager of JD.com, a distant rival of Alibaba’s Taobao, involving negative news on Alibaba and Jack Ma and dispatched via a big network of anonymous accounts.
Ma said someone clearly intended to run the photo of him and Zhao after the “Queen of Stock” and her husband Huang Youlong were banned recently by the CSRC with an instruction “let their photo be run forever”.
He said the individuals involved had a clear division of work and he now had a better idea on how such orders were enacted, on who got money for doing this and how they operated.
Ma said: “Business competition is competition on strategy, tactics, appraisal and execution ability, but not small gestures and manipulation.”
So, is Ma trying to play down a popular rumor? A lot of people appear to be skeptical. Apple Daily, for example, pointed out that Ma and Zhao had met 18 times, far more than what Ma claimed.
The relationship between Ma and Zhao was first reported in July 2013 when the two visited Qigong master Wang Lin. Between 2013 and 016, they were pictured at a drawing class and an NBA match.
Ma went to visit Zhao while she was filming and even showed up at her grandpa’s birthday party, according to a book “Jack Ma and his friends” authorized and published by Alibaba Group. It was also rumored that Ma was the godfather of Zhao’s daughter.
Their personal relationship even extended to a business partnership. In 2015, Zhao made a killing in a company that she bought for HK$3.1 billion (US$397 million), which later became Ali Pictures following a takeover by Alibaba Group. The duo also co-invested in Yunfeng Financial, Ma’s private equity fund.
But Zhao has not shown up at Ma’s Double 11 Festival since November 2015, and the two have been pictured only twice in the last 18 months.