Alibaba's Ma Says China Benefits From Stability of One Party

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Jack Ma Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Jack Ma said China benefits from the stability of its single-party system, contrasting that with the unpredictability of U.S. politics.

The Chinese billionaire made the comments in response to a question about the country’s economy and its prospects for growth. He said he has confidence in China’s potential and cited as his number one reason the stability of one party in the country, which has been led by the Communists since 1949. In the U.S., the Democrats go one way, then the Republicans go another, he said, which complicates planning.

“I am very confident about China,” Ma said during an onstage interview at Fortune magazine’s conference in Guangzhou.

It is Ma’s second explicitly political declaration this week. At China’s World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Alibaba’s chairman spoke out in support of the government’s tight control online and lectured foreign competitors on their strategies in the country. He said companies like Facebook Inc. and Google that want to operate in China need to “follow the rules,” implying they need to adhere to censorship controls to gain access to its citizens.

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Also speaking in Guangzhou are Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s Pony Ma and Terry Gou, CEO of iPhone manufacturer Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.

Cook emphasized the importance of China to his company, both as the primary place for manufacturing iPhones and iPads and as a market for its products. He said the No. 1 attraction of China for manufacturing is the “quality of people.” Though Apple has lost ground in the smartphone market against local rivals, Cook said the company is regaining share and he “couldn’t be happier” with sales of the iPhone X so far.

Cook had also given a keynote speech at the Wuzhen conference, his first appearance there, and he defended his involvement against criticism he was lending support to Chinese authorities and their censorship of the internet.

"When you go into a country and participate in the market, you are subject to the laws and regulations of that country,” he said in Guangzhou. “Your choice is, do you participate or do you stand in the sideline and yell at how things should be? My own view, very strongly, is you show up and you participate. You get in the arena because nothing ever changes from sideline.”

Tencent CEO Pony Ma talked about the history of his company, which isn’t as well known abroad as Alibaba. He explained that several teams competed against each other in messaging services, which led to the success of the company’s WeChat and QQ platforms.

Ma, whose company is now the seventh most valuable in the world with a market cap of $444 billion, said he sees the next big opportunities in education and health care. Tencent has invested in at least seven internet medical companies, he said, without giving their names.

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The Alibaba co-founder said that, despite fears technology will eliminate jobs and increase inequality, he doesn’t think that’s the case. Though e-commerce and other tech-focused business models may make certain jobs obsolete, they will also open up new opportunities.

“Human beings should have confidence,” he said. “We will control machines, machines will not control us.”

Ma acknowledged tensions between the U.S. and China, but remained optimistic about avoiding a serious trade war. He met with President Donald Trump and thinks he is making progress.

Yet Ma said business people shouldn’t wait for politicians to lead the way in decision making. Instead, the business community should take responsibility for leadership.

“Be optimistic and take action,” he said.

— With assistance by Yuan Gao, and Lulu Yilun Chen

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