As Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma finished up his 40-minute address to the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China, he took time for one question: How will the company compete in the U.S. with e-commerce giants such as Amazon and eBay?
The question was straightforward, but his answer wasn't. He warmed up to it by waxing philosophical on Christianity, Confucianism and Daoism, and how they produce different managerial styles in China and the West.
"I think the management strategy and philosophy in the West is based on Christianity," Ma began. "They always want to find a rival. Having a rival is very important."
Ma related how early on with Alibaba, he met with western venture capitalists who asked, "Who are your rivals?" Ma said he couldn't answer the question.
"In China, we often talk about harmony between man and nature," said Ma, the founder of Alibaba. "Confucianism, Daoism often stress coordination and a balanced relationship between man and nature, between man and man. We embrace Western philosophy and at the same time inherited a Chinese philosophy."
After that brief discourse on some 2,600 or so years of Eastern and Western philosophies, Ma addressed the meat of the question.
"When we go to the U.S., we do not want to compete with eBay and Amazon," Ma said. "We will find opportunities but we have to come to realize that we do not want to compete with eBay or Amazon in the United States."
With about 7 billion people in the world and only about 500 million shopping online, there are lots of opportunities around the world, Ma said. And opportunities to work together.
In the past week, Amazon introduced a global store that allows Chinese customers to import goods from the U.S. using Alibaba’s finance affiliate Alipay for payment, Amazon's Global Vice President Doug Gurr said in the same session. That store has 80,000 products, he said.
Amazon "loves" Alipay because it solves credit and payment problems for Amazon's China customers, Gurr said.
Love and peace in the e-commerce world didn't last the entire session, however.
"I would say that my model is good, Amazon would say that their model is good," Ma said in his closing remarks. "We'll see who will still be here 20 years from now."
Ah, that's more like it.
To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Edmond Lococo in Beijing at email@example.com