The controversy comes ahead of the anticipated stock market listing of Alibaba, expected to value the firm at the equivalent of £39 billion-£65bn.
In the article in the South China Morning Post newspaper, Mr Ma appeared to endorse Deng Xiaoping, then China’s paramount leader, in using violent force to crush the 1989 protests. Mr Ma is quoted as saying: “As CEO of a company, whether it be regarding the Alibaba incident [involving fraud in 2011] or the spin-off of Alipay, it is like Deng Xiaoping on June 4th. As the country’s most senior decision-maker, he had to be stable and he had to make cruel decisions … it was the best decision at that time.”
Mr Ma denies he made such an assertion. The journalist, Liu Yi, has said her report for the paper was changed, and she has apologised to Mr Ma.
But the Post said in a statement that the reporter had accessed its system and replaced the editor-approved article with an altered version, in which Mr Ma’s reference to Tiananmen was removed. It said Liu Yi had been suspended, but she chose to resign on 19 July before an investigation had been completed.
In undisputed comments in the same report, Mr Ma described the Chinese government as “terrific”.