China's most famous entrepreneur and billionaire has been outed as a card-carrying communist.
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce juggernaut Alibaba (BABA), with a net worth of more than $30 billion, was identified Monday as a Communist Party member by the People's Daily, the ruling party's official newspaper.
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The 54-year-old was being honored by the Chinese government as one of 100 people who have made "outstanding contributions" to China's economic transformation in the past four decades.
The revelation — for the first time by state-run national media — comes amid rising concerns over the tightening grip on China's private sector by the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping.
"The fact he is 'outed' as a party member is significant — it's speaking to the times," said Duncan Clark, author of "Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built."
"The party is increasingly assertive about its role and people are reaffirming their commitment to the Xi (ideology)," he added. "It's almost like reading a pledge of allegiance every morning — it's getting more explicit."
Ma had to deny publicly that he was being forced out of his own company by Beijing after announcing in September that he would step down as chairman next year.
Since Communist Party members are required to put the party's interests above all else, analysts said Ma's newly confirmed membership could add fuel to growing suspicion of Chinese companies in Washington.
Chinese businesses looking to spread across the world are already being closely examined by foreign governments over concerns they're too close to Beijing, particularly when their products are being used in areas of national security.
"This could create collateral damage in Chinese efforts to expand overseas through the private sector," Clark said.
A spokeswoman for Alibaba, a New York Stock Exchange-listed company worth more than $400 billion, declined to specify when Ma joined the Communist Party.
"Political affiliation of any executive does not influence the company's business decision-making process," she said. "We follow all laws and regulations in countries where we operate as we fulfill our mission of making it easier for people to do business anywhere in the digital era."
The spokesperson also declined to disclose how much membership dues Ma has paid. Communist Party rules require members in the highest income bracket — those who earn more than $1,400 a month — to pay 2% of their salary to the party, which boasts nearly 90 million members nationwide.
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