Jack Ma’s surprise visit ignites speculation

Raises hopes about potential investments in Pakistan in the days to come

Usman Hanif July 02, 2023
Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, speaks in Paris on May 16, 2019. PHOTO: AFP


Renowned Chinese billionaire and co-founder of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, created a stir among observers with his unexpected visit to Pakistan. Former Chairman of the Board of Investment (BOI), Muhammad Azfar Ahsan, confirmed the visit to The Express Tribune, stating that Ma arrived in Lahore on June 29 and stayed for 23 hours.

Emphasising that it was a purely personal visit, Ma deliberately avoided interactions with government officials and the media. He resided at a private location and left on June 30 via a private jet registered under the name VP-CMA, owned by Jet Aviation.

While the purpose of Ma’s visit remains confidential at this point, there is hope that it will yield positive outcomes for Pakistan in the days to come, according to Ahsan. Ma was accompanied by a delegation of seven businessmen, consisting of five Chinese nationals, one Danish individual, and one US citizen. They arrived in Pakistan from Nepal via a chartered flight from Hong Kong’s business aviation sector.

Speculation arose on social media about Ma and his team exploring business opportunities in Pakistan, including visits to trade centres and meetings with prominent businessmen and officials from various chambers of commerce. However, there has been no confirmation regarding any specific business deals or meetings.

In a tweet, Ahsan clarified that Ma’s visit was strictly for personal purposes. Interestingly, even the Chinese embassy was unaware of the details of Ma’s visit and engagements in the country, he said.

Speaking to the Express Tribune, P@SHA, Chairman, Zohaib Khan remarked, “Although it was a personal visit, it helped enhance Pakistan’s reputation from a tourism standpoint.” Khan expressed the view that Pakistani authorities should have taken the opportunity to arrange a meeting with Ma and gain insights from his seasoned experience in the IT world. He said even a statement from Ma regarding Pakistan’s IT sector would have significant impact.

The visit by Ma and other international investors indicates their recognition of Pakistan’s immense potential and their genuine interest in exploring investment opportunities, noted Waqas Ghani Kukaswadia, an analyst at JS Global.

Topline Securities, ICT analyst, Nasheed Malik highlighted Pakistan’s rapid embrace of digitalisation, suggesting that Ma might be seeking investment opportunities in the country. With its emerging market status and less saturated competition compared to Western countries, Pakistan presents a promising opportunity for investors like Jack Ma.

However, some experts, such as startup investment specialist Kapeel Kumar, believe that Ma’s visit could simply be a coincidence, and only time will reveal its true implications. Kumar noted that Pakistan’s young and tech-savvy population, coupled with its growing economy, could attract the interest of the likes of Alibaba.

Pakistan’s strategic importance and its involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have made it a key partner for Chinese investments. It is plausible that Ma’s visit aimed to strengthen ties between Alibaba and Pakistan, as well as to promote Chinese investment in the country, said Kumar.

Ma’s personal interests align with several aspects of his visit to Pakistan. As a philanthropist, he has a keen interest in education and development, which resonates with Pakistan’s need for investment in these areas.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2023.

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