ZHEJIANG, East China — Jack Ma, executive chairman of internet giant Alibaba and China’s richest person, says that when new technology makes traditional manufacturing methods obsolete, trade wars will cease to exist — but until then, China might as well settle in for the long haul.
Today marks the second time Ma has commented on the Sino-U.S. trade war since Monday, when American President Donald Trump announced $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese products, and China quickly responded with $60 billion in retaliatory tariffs. Ma predicted after Trump’s decree that the trade war could last as long as 20 years, and admonished China’s business and political leaders to prepare accordingly. “It’s going to be a mess,” he said.
Ma delivered the keynote speech on Wednesday at Alibaba’s four-day Computing Conference in Hangzhou, capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province. The speech likely marks the last time he will address the conference as executive chairman of the company he co-founded nearly two decades ago: Earlier this month, he announced he would step down from his current post next September.
The Computing Conference is a showcase for Alibaba’s newest projects and biggest announcements. Setting the tone for the coming year, the theme of this year’s event is “Empower Digital China,” a mantra for the company as it makes further strides into the digital era. Executives at the conference highlighted Alibaba’s advances in online finance, cloud computing, the internet of things, and other areas. Afterward, Ma delivered his address to wrap up the first half-day of the conference.
Facing the inevitable trend toward a technological revolution, Ma said, traditional manufacturers will find it harder to survive. “Traditional manufacturing depends on electricity, while ‘new manufacturing’ will depend on big data,” he explained, using a one of the five “new” terms he coined for when technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and big data more fully permeate day-to-day business.
Ma also believes that when new manufacturing replaces traditional manufacturing, there will be no reason for global superpowers to engage in trade wars. According to him, trade wars — “ridiculous” attempts to create domestic jobs — are as much a product of the industrial age as the assembly line. However, that age’s days are numbered.
“In the future, the manufacturing industry will be ‘made in internet,’” Ma said, veering away from the current economic emphasis on the “made in China” brand. “When manufacturing has no borders and becomes a business in which everyone can participate, the rules will need to be reshaped. How would you start a trade war then?” Ma summarized his beliefs to with a Chinese proverb: “Tranquility calms the storm to a whisper: We must be patient and make long-term mental preparations.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group, speaks at the Wall Street Journal’s D.LIVE technology conference in Laguna Beach, California, Oct. 27, 2014. Lucy Nicholson/Business Science Technology/VCG)