Alibaba Co-founder Joe Tsai: ‘I Like Crypto’

Alibaba has a considerable portfolio of blockchain infrastructure patents, but this isn’t the same as supporting cryptocurrency


key takeaways

  • Joe Tsai, co-founder and vice chairman at Alibaba, has often been called Jack Ma’s right hand man
  • Given the regulatory environment surrounding digital assets in China, it’s unlikely that Alibaba will get involved in crypto in any meaningful way

Authorities in China have done all they can to make buying digital assets as difficult as possible for those in-country. But Alibaba’s co-founder and executive vice chairman Joe Tsai says he likes crypto. 

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What might be a mundane remark in the circles of crypto Twitter is interesting coming from a man of Tsai’s stature.

Alibaba is China’s e-commerce giant and Tsai is often described as Jack Ma’s right-hand man.

When asked by commentators on Twitter to elaborate on his comment, he didn’t reply.

For example, James Lloyd, a Citi executive based in Hong Kong, asked if Tsai had posted the same thing on Weibo, a China-based social networking platform that is tightly controlled by Beijing.

It’s unlikely that Alibaba will make any inroads into the cryptocurrency industry, even offshore. In November Blockworks reported that three of China’s major tech giants, including Alibaba, signed a self-regulatory pledge to keep their growing NFT marketplaces away from cryptocurrencies.

Part of that pledge included promises that they would work together with authorities in “preventing money laundering, promising dissociation with virtual currency, upholding consumers rights, and promoting national culture.”

Anti-crypto but pro-blockchain

Despite its anti-crypto institutional stance, Alibaba is a big proponent of blockchain technology.

As Beijing has identified blockchain as a strategic technology, Alibaba has spent considerable sums on R&D for blockchain infrastructure. Alibaba’s fintech subsidiary Ant Group has filed for 7,000 blockchain-related patents and has been awarded 631 as of August 2021.

Although Alibaba needs to steer clear of crypto, Tsai, as a private investor, has some indirect exposure. Kevin Durant, a superstar player on the Brooklyn Nets, which Tsai owns, has a stake in Coinbase. Durant bought equity in 2017 through his venture fund Thirty-Five Ventures. As part of the investment deal, he acts as an ambassador for the team and is one of the faces of the Coinbase brand.

Tsai is said to be worth nearly $10 billion, according to a profile in the “Financial Post.” While he holds a Canadian passport, it’s unclear if he’s ever lived in Canada or if the passport is merely an insurance policy should he run afoul of Chinese authorities, as Jack Ma did in early 2021.

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