Alibaba founder Jack Ma traveling (and cooking) around Israel

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba – one of the world’s largest e-commerce websites in the world – is visiting Israel and setting off a frenzy among local investors.

The business magnate is hobnobbing with Israel’s tech elite, as well as meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Be the first to know –

Ma is scheduled to address Tel Aviv University students on Thursday, along with receiving an honorary degree – according to an invitation from the school. At the university, Ma is set to meet with academics and researchers specializing in artificial intelligence, computer science and engineering.

Some 35 executives are accompanying Ma and they arrived in the country on Monday.

On Wednesday, Ma and his delegation are set to visit the Israel Museum and meet with Economy Minister Eli Cohen, Globes business daily reported. The museum is set to host a meet-and-greet with local investors.

The Alibaba chairman also plans to visit the offices of Jerusalem Venture Partners. Alibaba has invested heavily in JVP, a venture capital fund set up by former Knesset member and philanthropist Erel Margalit.

In October, Alibaba announced , as part of setting up a global “academy” with seven research and development centers worldwide. The Tel Aviv office will focus on disruptive technologies such as computer vision, along with possibly delving into fields like data intelligence, the Internet of things, fintech, quantum computing and human-machine interaction, according to a company statement at the time.

The Chinese e-commerce giant jumped into the Israeli market in 2015, investing in Visualead – which offers a ‘dot-less’ QR code – for an undisclosed sum.

Alibaba has also invested in Israel start-ups in fields ranging from augmented reality (Infinity AR and Lumsus) to search engine tech (Twiggle) and cybersecurity (ThetaRay).

One of China’s richest men, Ma kicked off his trip by floating in the Dead Sea.

Ma was also spotted eating at some of the country’s hottest restaurants, including Jerusalem’s Eucalyptus restaurant located right outside the Old City walls.

Ma has expressed interest in learning about Jewish traditions and the ingathering of the exiles, Globes added.

Founded in 1999, Alibaba Group reported an annual revenue of $23.8 billion in 2017. The company offers services ranging from e-commerce – similar to Amazon – to business-to-business, cloud computing and mobile payment services. The company also owns the South China Morning Post.

Chinese money is flowing into Israeli hi-tech companies, albeit at a slower-than-expected pace. In 2016, Chinese investments into Israel surged to a record $16.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Yet Chinese companies continue to take a “backseat” to American, European and Japanese firms, IVC Research Center reported in February, as Chinese direct investments, along with merger and acquisition and buyout activity, still accounts for only 5% of the total sum flowing into Israel.