Jack Ma, founder of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, is among the world’s richest people but he has now emerged as a member of another club: China’s 89-million-strong Communist Party. The billionaire’s Communist bona fides were revealed by the People’s Daily, the party’s official mouthpiece, in an article praising contributors to China’s development. He is not the first nor likely the last Chinese super-rich capitalist to join the party, which counts property titan Xu Jiayin and Wanda Group founder Wang Jianlin among its billionaire members.
But Ma’s membership had not been widely known until now as China’s richest man had previously suggested that he preferred to stay out of politics. In Monday’s article, the People’s Daily said Ma was a party member who has played an important role in pushing China’s Belt and Road global trade infrastructure initiative -- a pet project of President Xi Jinping. Xi has renewed a push to expand the Communist Party’s influence in private business, requiring any company with more than three party members to set up a party cell, or lacking numbers, join with nearby firms.
Three in four private companies already host party organisations. Ma’s business rivals, Tencent CEO and Chairman Pony Ma and Baidu’s Robin Li are not affiliated with any party, the People’s Daily said. He has also been honoured as one of the “outstanding builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics in Zhejiang Province”, where Alibaba is based, the daily said. Ma did not reveal his Communist Party membership in paperwork filed for Alibaba’s 2014 initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. It is not known if Ma was a member at the time. A spokeswoman for Alibaba declined to comment.
Alibaba bought Hong Kong’s English language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, in 2015 and controversies have swirled over the editorial slant of its coverage since the purchase. Ma told the paper he wanted to offer a “fair chance to readers” to understand China when Alibaba purchased it. “My philosophy is to be in love with the government, but never marry them,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2007.