Does Jack Ma fancy himself as a mediator between China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump? The founder of the world’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, is so far the only Chinese billionaire to have met the new US leader.
What would otherwise seem to be an inadvertent ambition now starts to make sense after a speech Ma gave to Zhejiang Business Forum yesterday in the city of Hangzhou, headquarters of his Alibaba Group. The forum is actually a meeting of the richest people in the eastern Chinese province, and Ma is its head. Between them, they own more than half of China’s wealth.
Ma gave these tycoons an eyewitness account. “Trump is very smart,” he said. “President Xi gave a brilliant speech at Davos, and I'd suggest you read it carefully,” he added.
Ma, China’s second-richest man according to Forbes, met with fellow tycoon Trump in New York four weeks ago to discuss how Alibaba can create one million new jobs in the US over the next five years. Employment is a key concern of the new administration and that is how Ma won the favor of the new president.
Ma is also familiar with China’s president, who served as the governor of Zhejiang before he became national leader. Ma’s Zhejiang-based business empire developed rapidly during Xi’s period as governor, with the e-commerce portal Alibaba.com listing in Hong Kong in 2007.
One of the biggest booms of Ma’s meeting with Trump is that Alibaba’s New York-listed shares gained. The US Securities and Exchange Commission has not stopped investigating the company’s alleged data falsification, and Ma certainly wants to see the situation improve now Trump moved into the White House.
Protectionism vs. Globalization
Unlike Trump’s protectionism, Xi is an advocate of globalization. He vowed to make China the world’s globalization champion during his unprecedented speech at the World Economic Forum earlier this month. Xi was the first Chinese president to attend the forum. This is the exact opposite of what Trump has been campaigning for.
Ma needs to create jobs for the new president and fully support for Xi’s globalization strategy. The hidden message is that Americans should realize that the US will benefit from China’s globalization.
Ma has the best command of the English language among China’s magnates, and he is well known for his eagerness to accept interviews with Western media. Last November a CNN reporter asked Ma what he would say if Trump asked him for suggestions? He said he would recommend that he focus on trade, push forward globalization, and enhance mutual understanding between China and the US -- advice you would not be surprised to hear from China’s top leaders. In fact, the most important thing he told Trump is that he will bring one million jobs to the US.
Having a businessman acting as mediator between national leaders is reminiscent of China’s diplomatic tactics during the Cold War several decades ago. Many rich overseas Chinese have done something similar. Does Ma want to serve as a middleman? Does he have Xi’s consent? The fact is he has already done it.