Critical thinking question 1: Why Jack Ma acquired SCMP?

In year 2015, Jack Ma acquired SCMP, one of Hong Kong’s most influential English language daily newspapers. This was once regarded as an action to control Hong Kong media by Beijing government. However, it seems that the position of SCMP, though more or less changed, generally kept its style and editorial freedom. So why did Jack Ma, a tycoon in e-commerce, buy a traditional newspaper in the era of digital media? From my own perspective, this can be illustrated from Jack Ma’s political philosophy.

Jack Ma’s political philosophy can be revealed from his words, “Fall in love with government but don’t marry them.” What he means is that it will help to form a good cooperation with the government but it is not necessary to be fully controlled by government since it may have conflicts between them when talking about profits.

On one hand, this acquisition may help Beijing’s government to improve the reputation of China around the world. Joseph C. Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, said in an interview “Our business is so rooted in China, and touches so many aspects of the Chinese economy, that when people don’t really understand China and have the wrong perception of China, they also have a lot of misconceptions about Alibaba.” Both Alibaba and Chinese government have same interests in enhancing Chinese international reputation. That’s one of the reasons Jack Ma chose SCMP but not others. Because SCMP is an English award-winning newspaper that enjoys great influence around the world on China issues.

However, the goals of Jack Ma and government still have slight differences. Chinese government not only wants to improve the reputation of the country, but more importantly wishes to beautify the Party to stable their rules. What Jack Ma wants is to diminish stereotype of western country about China and therefore willing to accept Chinese companies and their products. Thus, SCMP won’t do propaganda like China Daily. Because this won’t diminish the stereotype but intensify westerner’s stereotype about Chinese dictatorship.

On the other hand, buying SCMP can raise Jack Ma’s voice, which is different from the government. This is due to different goals of a business man and the government. What a business man chases about is profits while government cares more about stability of the society. Sometimes government may ask their controlled companies to take certain actions that will make losses just to stable the society or even for party or chairman’s own interests. This can be seen from a lot of SOE in China during past decades. The rigidity that government brings will destroy Alibaba’s business empire. Since Alibaba’s philosophy is innovative, flexible and free, which is totally opposite to rigidity of SOE.

Therefore, to keep Alibaba’s relative autonomy, it needs its own “mouth and tongue”. This is not the first time for Alibaba to enter the media industry. Actually, Alibaba has invested in Sina between 2013 and 2014 and in Youku in 2015, both are famous media companies in mainland. However, as the media in mainland is still somehow censored, Jack Ma needs a media that fully uncontrolled by Chinese government. But acquiring a western media may be difficult due to Jack Ma’s Chinese background. Thus, SCMP is a relatively good choice for him

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