Speculation about Ma’s ties to the Chinese government has long been discussed, though he has often kept his distance from Beijing in his public comments.
But on Monday, state-run People’s Daily wrote that the CPC would be honoring 100 people, including Ma and two other internet-tech moguls, for their contributions to China’s economy.
The publication specifically referred to Ma as a “CPC member” and said that Ma had been listed as a “huge driving force for domestic demand” as head of Alibaba Group.
“Under his leadership, Alibaba ranks among the top 10 global companies in terms of market value, making China a leading player in the international e-commerce industry, internet finance and cloud computing, spawning a large number of entrepreneurs and start-ups,” People’s Daily wrote, citing a government statement discussing the award.
The article also lists Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, China’s top search engine, and Pony Ma, chairman of internet giant Tencent Holdings, as recipients of the honor. The article specifically refers to Li and Ma as “non-partisan.”
Bill Bishop, publisher of China newsletter Sinocism, says the revelation about Ma isn’t surprising to many who have followed Alibaba’s successful catapult into the global market.
“No one doubted that Alibaba had to be close to the CPC to survive,” Bishop told Business Insider, though he noted that other Chinese tech moguls have been able to build successful companies without pledging their support.
Bishop added that while Ma decided to step down as chairman of the e-commerce giant in September 2019, the revelation of Ma’s close ties to the Chinese government will likely continue through Alibaba.
“It’s just another reminder that Alibaba has to be close to the CPC, and given how President Xi Jinping is pushing the party back into every aspect of business and life,” Bishop continued, “it will only give ammunition to regulators who are already worried about Chinese firms.”