China’s economy will face “a difficult three to five years” but the slowdown will be good for its long-term development, Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma told the South China Morning Post in an interview just before the e-commerce giant’s takeover of the 113-year-old newspaper. Ma said the Chinese economy was indeed grappling with structural problems and that the authorities were working hard to steer it onto a new growth path. But he dismissed fears that China would follow Japan’s route to stagnation, saying the country still had huge potential waiting to be tapped. Paywall down as Alibaba takes ownership of SCMP The rapid growth of China’s internet economy and consumer culture could help the country through its temporary difficulties, Ma said. China would likely continue to grow at a rate “enviable to most other major economies for another 15 to 20 years”, he said. Ma gave the two-hour interview in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, during which he also discussed his vision for the Post , cultural differences between the East and West, and his concerns for Hong Kong’s next generation. On China’s economy, the businessman said it was unrealistic to expect an economy of such scale to maintain double-digit growth indefinitely. “There is no reason to expect that an economy of such size can maintain such a growth rate indefinitely, nor is it good for China to continue to grow at such speed,” Ma said. Alibaba buys South China Morning Post Group’s media business, pledges to uphold editorial independence and remove paywall “After more than 30 years’ growth, spending a few years to adjust its course is reasonable. “Some say the actual [growth] number could be just 5 per cent. But even with 5 per cent growth, there is no other economy of such size growing at that speed in today’s world.” Comparing China to an ocean liner, Ma said the Chinese leadership understood that the country’s old growth model was unsustainable and that they needed to chart a new course. “It is easy for a small boat to change its course. But as the world’s second-largest economy, China is like an ocean liner … we have to choose either to not slow down and overturn the ship, or to slow a bit to make the turn,” he said. The key was to create enough jobs to keep the economy stable and buy time so the country could complete its much-needed transformation, Ma said. Fortunately for China, he said, the rise of its internet economy happened at the right time. China’s GDP grows 6.7pc in first quarter in good start to 2016 “The traditional industries are struggling, but we also see growth in domestic consumption, the services industry and the hi-tech sector, and young talents are flocking to these areas,” he said. “The logistics and delivery industries create plenty of jobs for low-skilled workers. We still have a lot of room for growth.” Ma said the deciding factor in a true economic transformation would be the country’s ability to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit among the young and create an environment to help it flourish. “I believe there will be some great enterprises arising from China,” he said. So China’s growth looks good, but now what? “The monetary policy and supply-side reforms are very important and can help rejuvenate China’s economy. But to me, the most important thing is entrepreneurship. If this can flourish in China, China will become successful.” China’s slowdown had triggered panic among foreign investors, with some choosing to leave the country. But this actually created fresh opportunities, Ma said. History had proven that those who bucked the trend to invest in China during difficult times always received good returns, he added. “China needs to develop its rural areas; China needs to develop its cultural industry. It is also shifting focus to services and IT industries. There are still plenty of opportunities around,” Ma said. China’s GDP grows 1.1 pc in first three months of 2016 – slowest quarterly pace since 2010 In tomorrow’s report, we will continue with Ma’s comments on the future of the Post and his take on Hong Kong. A full transcript of the interview will also be available.