HONG KONG/AMSTERDAM, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Alibaba Group
founder Jack Ma, largely out of public view since
criticizing China's regulatory system last year, has smelled
orchids and brushed up his knowledge of horticulture on a
surprise visit to the Netherlands, a flower developer who met
The Chinese billionaire's empire came under heavy official
scrutiny after a speech in October in Shanghai, which accused
the regulatory system of stifling innovation, and the
blockbuster $37 billion IPO of his fintech affiliate Ant Group
Ma, once China's most famous and outspoken entrepreneur,
had been "lying low" and focusing on hobbies and philanthropy,
Alibaba's executive vice chairman and co-founder Joe Tsai told
CNBC in June.
He reappeared in Hong Kong in October, where he met at least
"a few" business associates over meals, two sources told
He then flew to the Spanish island of Mallorca, where his
luxury yacht is anchored, his first trip abroad since he fell
out with Chinese regulators, two Spanish newspapers reported
Marco van Herk, commercial director at Dutch flower company
Anthura, said on Wednesday he had been expecting to give a tour
to a group of Chinese business executives earlier this week.
"We were totally surprised when Jack Ma stepped out of the
car," Van Herk told Reuters. "He was very interested on a
personal level. We talked about how they (orchids) could smell
great and were beautiful at the same time."
Ma wanted to know all the details about the cultivation of
the flowers. "We also focus on robustness, which is right up his
alley because you get into how to offer a plant online
packaging, rather than out of a store."
Ma visited several other business and research centers in
the Netherlands, including the World Horti Center.
He was photographed in a baseball cap, wearing a white
protective gown and holding flowerpots, while in another picture
he is seen in jeans and a hoodie.
The billionaire, who retired as Alibaba's chairman in 2019,
will continue touring European companies and research
institutions involved in agricultural infrastructure and plant
breeding, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP)
Ma believed combining the technology he researched with
Alibabas cloud computing, big data analysis and artificial
intelligence could help modernize Chinese agriculture, people
familiar with the trip told SCMP.
On Sept. 1, photographs of Ma visiting greenhouses in
eastern Zhejiang province, home to both Alibaba and Ant, went
viral on Chinese social media.
The next day, Alibaba said it would invest 100 billion yuan
($15.5 billion) by 2025 in support of "common prosperity,"
becoming the latest corporate giant to pledge support for the
wealth sharing initiative driven by President Xi Jinping.
"I don't know if it will lead to any business, but it was
valuable just to have him here," Van Herk said.
(Reporting by Donny Kwok and Anthony Deutsch; Editing by
Lincoln Feast and David Holmes)