Jack Ma, the billionaire, formerly outspoken co-founder and former chairman China’s e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, is on a tour of Europe, visiting research institutions in Spain and the Netherlands to pursue his interest in agricultural technology, the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, reported Tuesday and Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.
The trip marks the former high-flying billionaire’s first known travel abroad in more than a year since China started to crack down on Alibaba and the country’s wider internet sector. The Hangzhou-based e-commerce giant was fined a record $2.8 billion in April for violating the country’s anti-trust rules, while its fintech affiliate Ant Group has formalized business rectification plans after its blockbuster initial public offering was abruptly suspended late last year following Ma’s now infamous criticism of China’s financial regulatory system.
The entrepreneur, who still has a sizable fortune of $41.7 billion that makes him China’s fourth richest man, is undertaking the tour in his personal capacity, according to the Post. He was photographed visiting a number of Dutch research institutions, where the technologies of aluminum extrusions and greenhouse roofs specialist BOAL Group are on display, the Post wrote.
An Alibaba spokesperson declined to comment. Ma’s personal philanthropy foundation, Jack Ma Foundation, didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment. The entrepreneur stepped down as Alibaba chairman in 2019, and has said he’d dedicate his time to philanthropy and non-profit work.
He now believes farming technologies in Europe, combined with Alibaba-developed clouding computing and artificial intelligence, would contribute to the modernization of agriculture in China, according to the Post. Last week, he was in Spain to study agriculture and environment-related technologies, the Post writes in a separate report. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been emphasizing “common prosperity”, a mantra that often includes helping low-income communities and developing the country’s rural area, as he seeks to reduce widening wealth gaps. Alibaba in September donated $15.5 billion in support of Xi’s campaign.