'Now it’s our turn, not the government’s': Alibaba's Jack Ma says this is one Chinese economic slowdown with a silver lining
Jack Ma Yun, the executive chairman at e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba Group, sees a silver lining in China's economic slowdown as businesses get the opportunity to take the lead in stimulating the country's growth.
While government policy can be effective in stimulating exports and investment, “consumption is not done by government,” Ma said in a talk on Thursday at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business School in California.
“It’s done by entrepreneurship and the market economy. So we have a great opportunity. Now it’s our turn, not the government’s turn," said Ma, who is in the US at the same time as Chinese President Xi Jinping is making his first official state visit there.
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Ma was at the university to accept the Entrepreneurial Company of the Year Award given to e-commerce giant Alibaba, the first Chinese company to receive that distinction, according to a report by corporate website Alizila.
Alibaba's success in China's fast-growing e-commerce market and the firm's record US$25 billion public listing in New York last year have made Ma one of the richest men in China.
The outspoken lead founder of Alibaba spoke before an audience of 400 people at the Stanford campus in an interview conducted by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, who serves as a board member at Alibaba.
Ma pointed out that China’s policymakers are trying to manage the country’s transition from an economy driven by exports and investment to one where domestic consumption plays a greater role.
This shift causes concern in the West, where slower growth usually means reduced consumer spending, he said.
“The China economy is not that bad,” Ma said.
“Even at (a GDP growth rate) of 7 per cent, we are still the fastest-growing economy in the world.”
He said a moderation was inevitable for the world's second-largest economy after decades of double-digit expansion.
“In the US when (the) economy is slowing down, it means people don’t have money to spend,” Ma said.
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“You guys know how to spend tomorrow’s money or future money or other people’s money. China’s been poor for so many years, we put our money in the bank” —which translates to a large number of debt-free Chinese consumers with spending power.
“We see traditional businesses going down but the new economy is growing tremendously,” Ma said.
The government's anti-corruption drive is poised to improve the rule of law in country, “laying a great foundation for the market economy", he added.
New York-traded Alibaba has been steadfastly promoting the development of a consumption-led economy in China through its range of e-commerce platforms. These include Taobao Marketplace, Tmall.com, Juhuasan, 1688.com and AliExpress, which cater to more than 350 million buyers and 10 million sellers.
To cultivate consumption, Ma said businesses “have to build up this kind of behaviour and make the people spend money".
He added that "this is something government is not good at".
Earlier this week, Ma joined a group of Chinese hi-tech industry business leaders accompanying Xi in the US.