Business & Technology

Jack ma

The would-be billionaire-diplomat.

Founder, Alibaba

On Jan. 9 in the lobby of New York’s Trump Tower, standing shoulder to shoulder with the president-elect, Jack Ma answered the U.S. press corps using Donald Trump’s dialect: not just English, which Ma speaks fluently, but the language of jobs. Ma pledged that e-commerce site Alibaba would create 1 million of them in the American heartland over the next five years by allowing more small U.S. businesses to sell into China.

It’s unlikely Beijing directed Ma to make the visit — and his vague pledge looks unattainable — but the effort may show one way forward for U.S.-China diplomacy. Trump and his coterie have loudly vowed to get tough on China — senior advisor Steven Bannon seems to think a war is inevitable — but Trump respects and understands first-rate businesspeople, of which China has many. It’s possible that some of China’s 594 billionaires could act as an auxiliary diplomatic corps holding the relationship together. At any rate, they are likely to want to please Trump to protect their U.S. business interests.

It’s notable that barely a week after his meeting with Trump, Ma sounded somewhat Trumpian at the World Economic Forum when he laid into the United States for squandering the gains of globalization. “The past 30 years, America had 13 wars, spending $14.2 trillion,” Ma said. “What if they spent part of that money on building up the infrastructure, helping the white-collar and blue-collar [workers]? You’re supposed to spend your money on your own people.”

(Photo credit: VCG/Getty Images)

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