Alibaba founder Jack Ma on Monday took on the role of conciliator during the inauguration of the tech giant’s Kuala Lumpur offices, calling for stronger trade and business ties to ease tensions between China and Malaysia that escalated following prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s surprise electoral win last month.
Mr Mahathir has vowed to review all Chinese projects and any “unequal treaties,” jeapordising Beijing’s relations with Malaysia that had flourished under former premier Najib Razak.
Mr Ma addressed worries over Sino-Malaysian relations directly during Alibaba’s ceremony. “Many people are worried about [this]…I am very confident in Malaysia[‘s] and China[‘s] relationship…This problem can be solved,” he said, underscoring that China is now Malaysia’s largest business partner.
The Chinese billionaire added: “We should use trade as an ambassador to communicate, to exchange culture, to exchange respect…China and Malaysia should exchange trade as much as possible. Only by trade [can we] solve most of the problems and issues.”
These comments came as trade is yielding the exact opposite result for China and the US, which are on the brink of a trade war after President Donald Trump last week announced new US tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports and Beijing responded with 25 per cent tariffs of its own on US products worth $34 billion. China’s finance ministry also threatened to add a further $16 billion, targeting US energy exports.
Mr Ma met Mr Mahathir ahead of the inauguration of Alibaba’s offices - the first in South-east Asia for the tech giant - and went as far as saying that Malaysia’s multimedia super corridor, a special economic zone and high-tech business district championed by the prime minister more than two decades ago, inspired him to create his own ecommerce company.