South East Asia

Jack Ma To U.S. Firms: Quit Complaining About China

With China and the U.S. possibly rolling toward a trade conflict, Alibaba founder and chairman Jack Ma had a defense to offer of his native land and complaints that it makes the barriers to entry too high for outside companies.

Ma posits that perhaps foreign firms find it so difficult to enter because they have not been approaching the nation correctly thus far.

“I gave advice to Jeff Bezos 10 years ago,” Mr. Ma said, referring to Amazon.com Inc.’s chief executive. “I said: ‘Please send people with entrepreneurial spirit, not professional management. Because wherever you go, doing business in another country is very difficult.’”

Ma also noted that outsiders need to come prepared, and then be ready to spend a decade waiting to get the operation really going.

Amazon dominates eCommerce in the U.S. but continues to struggle in China. The U.S.-based eCommerce giant had no comment on Ma’s comment.

Ma also noted that despite complaints, some U.S. brands have succeeded powerfully in China — including Mircosoft and Coke.

“Give me five examples of Chinese companies that succeed in America,” he said. “Or Asian companies that succeed in America. Because it’s not easy to do business across nations, it takes time.”

Kenneth Jarrett, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, notes that that comparison is not quite fair — Chinese companies have only recently been attempting global expansion, whereas U.S. firms have been trying to crack China for years. Surveys of U.S. firms by Mr. Jarrett’s group indicate that U.S. firms believe they are competing on an unfair field.

Ma’s remarks came from China’s annual World Internet Conference. The conference has become a place where the Chinese government can promote its views on the internet and related technologies. Conference participants included Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook, Facebook Vice President Vaughan Smith as well as Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

This year’s event comes as the Office of the United States Trade Representative examines complaints that U.S. companies are forced to give valuable technology and trade secrets to Chinese partners as the price for doing business. China contends that the USTR probe is a protectionist action that will undermine economic and trade relations between the U.S. and China.

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