Jack Ma Calls Tencent Move ‘Stupid,’ Apologizes for JD Insults

Billionaire Jack Ma apologized for calling Chinese e-commerce rival JD.com Inc. a “tragedy,” saying he was sorry for causing the company trouble by “putting it all out there.”

The Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. founder and chairman said on his personal Weibo account that JD.com had his blessings after criticisms of its business model were published last month in a Chinese-language book. Ma said he had a habit of making “crazy” and “stupid” boasts and didn’t expect that such private comments among friends would be made public. He made no mention of another passage in the book quoting Ma as faulting strategic moves by Tencent Holdings Ltd. as ``stupid.''

The apology shows the increased scrutiny Ma is under since Alibaba’s record-breaking $25 billion initial public offering in September, which helped make him Asia’s richest man. Ma previously attracted attention with colorful comments about U.S. auction site EBay Inc. and caused “a terrible misunderstanding” with remarks about the 1989 crackdown in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“Ma Yun probably apologized because Alibaba is now a public company and he needs to be more careful,” You Na, an analyst at ICBC International Research Ltd., said in Hong Kong, using Ma’s Chinese name. “He’ll probably tone down and become more aware of his words going forward.”

JD ‘Tragedy’

JD.com responded by posting a poem on Tencent’s WeChat messaging application, saying it would try to be better.

“We are aware that a competitor made critical comments about JD.com and has since apologized,” Josh Gartner, a Beijing-based spokesman for JD.com, said in a text message. “We accept that apology and we continue to be focused on providing China’s best online retail experience.”

Ma apologized after passages from the book by Fang Xingdong and Liu Wei -- the title of which translates roughly to “Alibaba, the Real Story” -- circulated on social media sites.

In one, Ma criticized JD.com’s business model, which involves holding inventory like Amazon.com Inc., whereas Alibaba runs platforms that connect buyers and sellers through sites like Taobao Marketplace and Tmall.com.

“JD.com will become a tragedy, I reminded everyone of this tragedy from the first day,” Ma said, according to one passage posted on the Chinese news portal Sina.com. “It’s an issue of direction, there’s nothing you can do about this ... So, I tell people at the company, definitely do not get involved with JD.com. Don’t come blaming us if you die one day.”

Tencent Strategy

The book also quotes Ma as criticizing moves by Tencent -- Asia’s second-largest Internet company -- for injecting assets into some partners such as JD.com. Those efforts didn’t amount to a long-term strategy, he said.

“In China today, strategy helps you win and we are much better than Tencent in that regard,” Ma said, according to the book. “Today WeChat is working with JD.com it’s even more stupid.”

Alibaba declined in an e-mailed statement to make any additional comments on the book passages. Canny Lo, a Shenzhen-based spokeswoman for Tencent, didn’t respond to an e-mail and a text message seeking a response.

Alibaba has a market value of about $259 billion, compared with JD.com’s $35 billion.

In his Weibo apology to JD.com, Ma said no business model was perfect. Ma said he awoke to a sarcastic text message from a staff member, congratulating him for the comments cited by the book.

“‘Got carried away while chatting? Didn’t think that your friends taped you and wrote about it?’” Ma quoted the staff member as saying.

Ma said he realized that he “can’t be cautious enough. Next time, I’ll go to a bath to chat.”

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