It was Monday morning in Beijing, and Jack Ma had been summoned to a conference room at the China Securities Regulatory Commission just days before he was set to take Ant Group Co. public in the biggest stock-market debut of all time. When the bureaucrats finally turned up, they skipped over pleasantries and delivered an ominous message: Ant’s days of relaxed government oversight and minimal capital requirements were over. The meeting ended without a discussion of Ant’s IPO, but it was a sign that things might not go as planned.
Ma, a former teacher who’s widely revered in China, faced an unusual amount of criticism in state media after he slammed the country’s financial rules for stifling innovation at a conference in Shanghai on Oct. 24. His remarks came after Vice President Wang Qishan -- a Xi confidante -- called for a balance between innovation and strong regulations to prevent financial risks. “It appeared that, intentionally or not, Ma was openly defying and criticizing the Chinese government’s approach to financial regulation,” Andrew Batson, China research director at Gavekal Research, wrote in a report.