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Katsuji Nakazawa is a Tokyo-based senior staff writer & editorial writer at ahtq.vn. He has spent seven years in Trung Quốc as a correspondent & later as Trung Quốc bureau chief. He is the 2014 recipient of the Vaughn-Uedomain authority International Journacác mục prize for international reporting.

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TOKYO -- Twenty-one years after his death, Japanese master painter Kaii Higashiyama must have turned in his grave sầu earlier this month when the Chinese government used one of his paintings khổng lồ sover a stern warning lớn the richest man in the country.

On the evening of Nov. 2, moments after Jaông chồng Ma Yun, the founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibacha Group, was summoned by Chinese authorities for questioning, a cryptic column was posted on Xinhua"s official WeChat tài khoản.


The article -- headlined, "Don"t speak thoughtlessly, don"t vày as you please, people can"t act on their không tính phí will" -- made no mention of Ma. But it was accompanied by a striking xanh painting of Higashiyama"s that shows a white cloud in the sky shaped lượt thích a horse.

In Chinese, "Ma" means horse, "Yun" means cloud. It was clear who the article was pointing at.

Some of the sentences were boldfaced for emphasis. The last one went like this:

"There is a price behind everything. If you don"t have sầu capital, don"t vì chưng whatever you want."


Jaông xã Ma was especially daring in his speech at the Bund Summit in Shangnhì, where he criticized Chinese regulators, the country"s financial system và Chinese banks. © AP.

The 1972 painting is titled "Fleecy Clouds."

Speculation quickly spread that the column, which hints that the horse could be blown away like a cloud, must have been published with the blessing of China"s top leadership.

As a member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, Ma is required to show absolute loyalty to lớn the system.

But the 56-year-old entrepreneur made remarks deemed khổng lồ challenge the intentions of the party"s Central Committee, led by President Xi Jinping.

Speaking at a financial conference in Shangnhì on Oct. 24, the outspoken billionaire criticized Chinese regulators, saying the country"s old financial regulations are a drag on technological innovation.

"Trung Quốc does not have a systemic financial risk problem," Ma said at the Bund Summit. "Chinese finance basically does not carry risk; rather, the risk comes from lacking a system.

"Good innovation is not afraid of regulation but is afraid of outdated regulation. We shouldn"t use the way khổng lồ manage a train station to regulate an airport."

Ma also took ayên ổn at Chinese banks, saying they operate with a "pawnshop" mentality.

Ma was especially daring given that he was speaking in front of Wang Qishan, the vice president who for years has been at the center of China"s financial administration.

Ma"s criticism was also directed at Vice Premier Liu He, a Xi aide who oversees China"s macroeconomic policy. His remarks, naturally, were reported to the top echelons.


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Vice Premier Liu He, left, andVice President Wang Qishan.Jaông xã Ma partially directed his criticism at Liu while speaking in front of Wang, who for years has been at the center of China"s financial administration. © AFP/Jiji

Ma has pioneered e-commerce & cashless commerce. But his remarks were careless, và he ended up stepping on the tiger"s tail.

The day after Xinhua used Higashiyama"s painting khổng lồ make a point, the planned initial public offering of Alibaba"s financial arm, Ant Group, in Shangnhì và Hong Kong was shelved.

The last-minute delay of what was khổng lồ be the biggest fundraising in history is the result of the Xi regime prioritizing domestic issues rather than the international credibility of the Chinese market.

Ant Group is unrivaled in scale. More than 1 billion people use Alipay, its core smartphone payment service. It offers a range of other services as well, including loans, cash advances và credit assessments.

Critics, meanwhile, have sầu said it presents a danger lớn China"s existing financial order.

For his part, Ma has stayed away from politics. Unlượt thích the founders of Tencent, Baidu and other tech giants, he is not a thành viên of China"s "two sessions," the annual gathering of the national legislature & the top political advisory body toàn thân.


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TencentCEO Pony Ma andAlibabaExecutive sầu Chairman Jaông chồng Ma attover an event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in 2018. © Reuters

That said, his business empire"s rapid growth, to lớn a certain extent, has been protected by his political connections. Ma has relatively cthảm bại relationships with former President Jiang Zemin, who led the so-called Shangnhị faction, his right-hand man former Vice President Zeng Qinghong và the people around them.

Alibacha is a private company born in Zhejiang Province, a stone"s throw from Shangnhì.

The key lớn understanding Ma"s current stumble, however, may lie in his relationship with Xi.

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Xi spent many years in Zhejiang as an official, gradually solidifying his political footing.

Xi"s subordinates from that time moved into lớn key positions across the country once their trùm took power & are called the "Zhejiang faction."

But Ma is not known to lớn have cozied up lớn them. Perhaps for two reasons. He knew the risks involved in getting too cchiến bại khổng lồ politics. He was also confident of his abilities và didn"t feel the need.

"Money & political power cannot exist together," Ma once said. "One is the powder keg, while the other is the match. If they both exist, an explosion will occur."

Ever the merchant, Ma always had a good intuition about how the tides were changing.

At a relatively young age, he decided khổng lồ retire from day-to-day management. Each time he thought he was becoming too high-profile, Ma would step baông xã.

But each time, the spotlight shone brighter & he could not disappear.

In May 2013, two months after Xi assumed the post of president, Ma formally retired as Alibatía CEO khổng lồ devote himself khổng lồ his job as company chairman.

In March 2018, Xi pushed through a revision of the national constitution, scrapping the limit of two five-year terms for Chinese presidents và paving the way for his own extended reign.

Xi"s power play prompted Ma lớn rush a decision. Half a year later, Ma declared that he "will retire in one year"s time." Ma actually stepped down as chairman in September 2019. He also retired from the board this September.

But this time, Ma looks to lớn have failed khổng lồ keep an appropriate distance from Chinese politics.


President Xi Jinping visits Jiangsu,former President Jiang"s hometown, for the first time since becoming China"s top leader in 2012, calling attention lớn hispolitical triumph overJiang và other các buổi party elders. © Xinhua/Kyobởi vì

A clue into Xi"s thinking was visible last week during an inspection tour of Jiangsu Province.

Visiting Nantong Museum, the president took in exhibits introducing Zhang Jian, founder of the museum và a Chinese industriacác mục và educator in the late 19th century và early 20th century.

The museum showed how Zhang ran businesses that benefited the nation, developed education & took part in public welfare activities.

Hailing Zhang as "a mã sản phẩm of all Chinese private entrepreneurs," Xi said the museum và Zhang"s former residence should be turned into a base for patriotic education, "which can enhance the sense of social responsibility of private entrepreneurs," Xinhua reported hyên ổn as saying.

Just ten days or so after Ma was questioned by authorities, the Chinese president was urging private entrepreneurs not khổng lồ be selfish.

Another noteworthy point about Xi"s Jiangsu tour is that he visited Yangzhou, former President Jiang"s hometown, for the first time since he became China"s top leader in 2012.

Six years ago, Xi made a big splash by inspecting Zhenjiang, an ancient thành phố south of Yangzhou & just across the Yangtze River.

The name Zhenjiang could have disturbing political overtones. Zhen means khổng lồ calm, jiang means river. It could be read as "bringing Jiang under control." That"s why even the name of a bridge over the Yangtze River completed in 2005 to lớn links Zhenjiang & Yangzhou avoided using the name.

Six years ago, Trung Quốc was still reeling from the political storm that had raged due to Xi"s anti-corruption chiến dịch, seeing Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, placed under investigation for corruption.

The committee is the party"s top decision-making toàn thân. Jiangsu was the power base of Zhou as well as of former President Jiang. Xi"s visit to Zhenjiang six years ago reflected his determination lớn break the rule of buổi tiệc ngọt elders with his crackdown on corruption.

Late last month, there were no personnel changes involving the promotion of potential successors khổng lồ Xi at the fifth plenary session of the party"s 19th Central Committee, further clearing the way for Xi khổng lồ extend his reign.

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The visit khổng lồ Yangzhou, a politically sensitive locale, almost looked lượt thích a victory lap, commemorating Xi"s triumph in his power struggle with Jiang & other buổi tiệc ngọt elders.


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