CPC Media Outs Alibaba’s Jack Ma as Party Member
Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba Group, has been officially confirmed as a member of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The revelation came on Nov. 26, 2018 as the CPC’s official media outlet, the People’s Daily, published a list of individuals to be honored by the CPC and the Chinese government on the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening-up of the Chinese economy.
Ma has a net worth of around 38.4 billion USD, thus making him the richest man in China. The company he co-founded in 1999 has expanded to dominate e-commerce and online retailing in China while acquiring numerous other subsidiaries in other areas, including newspaper South China Morning Post and online video hosting website Youku Tudou. In September 2014, Alibaba became the largest initial public offering up to then in history, with a valuation of 68 USD a share raising 21.8 billion USD for the company; by the time BABA began trading on the New York Stock Exchange a week later, share prices had surged to over 93 USD a share.
The news that Ma is and has been a member of the CPC — which openly espouses Marxism in its guiding ideological documents and propaganda activities — has surprised a fair share of analysts, observers, and Chinese citizens. Being a member of CPC means one must pay monthly dues, attend regular meetings, and occasionally submit themselves to “self criticism” in order to improve his or her ideological understanding. Currently, the CPC has 88 million members, approximately seven percent of China’s population. For high income members — which Ma would be, assuming he pays dues — the party dues required is equal to two percent of their monthly salary.
Other experts and observers were unsurprised about the revelation of Ma’s CPC membership. Many have noted that as General Secretary of the CPC Xi Jinping (also the President of China) is consolidating his and the CPC’s control over an increasingly complex and developed Chinese society, the Party would naturally attempt to co-opt seemingly “capitalist” success stories and use the Party membership of business leaders as a form of a recruitment pitch for the Party.
Additionally, CPC membership offers utilitarian benefits for those navigating the murky and complex Chinese business world. Party membership is often considered as a way to network rather than an expression of one’s political affiliation while also possibly granting an extra layer of personal and professional security (to some extent) in a country where private ownership protections have been weakly or unevenly enforced (if not outright ignored).
As such, given his position as leading one of the largest e-commerce companies in the world, Ma’s affiliation with CPC may not be so surprising. Alongside the outing of his party affiliation, Western news media has noted Ma’s (oftentimes vocal) support for CPC chief and Chinese President Xi and his reforms, especially in the past couple of years.
For instance, in 2016, Ma created a stir when he publicly endorsed the Chinese government’s effort to build online surveillance efforts over Chinese citizens with big data — data implied to be from Alibaba’s extensive network of microtransaction services. In another instance, Ma responded to President Xi on reducing economic inequality, saying that successful entrepreneurs have the responsibility to financially help others get close to where they are. Of course, the actual nature of Ma’s relationship with the Party and State is a continuing subject of speculation and intrigue, possibly summarized the best by Ma himself: “fall in love with the government, but don’t get married.”
The news comes amid a recent downturn in Chinese economy caused, in part, by the ongoing trade war with the United States. US officials are reportedly anticipating their Chinese counterparts accepting a truce in the trade spat at a meeting on the sidelines of the upcoming G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Saturday.