Jack Ma: Alibaba in Malaysia to Enable, Not to Compete


Jack Ma: Alibaba in Malaysia to Enable, Not to Compete

Alibaba's Jack Ma assuages concerns over China-Malaysia relations and reassures his commitment to Malaysia as the e-commerce giant pushes for expansion in Southeast Asia.

In the span of eight months, Jack Ma had visited Malaysia twice; albeit to a very different political environment in his latest visit earlier this week.

In November, the Alibaba founder and executive chairman came to Kuala Lumpur to attend the groundbreaking launch of  Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) with former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

On Monday, he met with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in an hour long meeting, which the tech titan described as ‘very good’.

“I told the Prime Minister, the first technological revolution belonged to Europe. Americans took the second one. Now is the opportunity for Asia. I think we will start from here,” says Ma.

Ma, the twentieth richest person in the world, was in town to launch Alibaba’s first office in South East Asia.

The obliging tech billionaire also spent over 50 minutes taking questions from a group of local and international press; Sino-Malaysia relations was a focal point following postponement of the KL-Singapore High Speed Rail and review of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) - both China-backed large scale infrastructure projects.

“I have review every quarter in my company,” he exclaims. “So, I don’t see it as a big issue.”

“I came to Malaysia; I feel it, I touch it. I talked to PM and Finance Minister (Lim Guan Eng). They are friendly to China and friendly to trade. So, don’t worry about it.”

The diplomatic Ma also says both the Najib-led and current government indicated a shared vision in embracing technology, when asked if he noticed a difference in policies between the current and previous administration. 

Globalisation in the next thirty years is enabling, it is not about selling

“In terms of similarity, both government have vision for technology. The Malaysian government love small businesses. I think from my discussion with Tun Dr Mahathir, he cares a lot about the villages and poor people; how we can leverage of technology and make it really work.”

"Tun Dr Mahathir doesn’t want Malaysia to be a low-end manufacturing base or an assembly line. He wants research centers, creative centers,” says Ma. “And this is what we believe in. Globalisation in the next thirty years is about enabling, it is not about selling.”

Ma reveals Alibaba has spent 690 million yuan (slightly over 420 million ringgit) in Malaysia to date. The tech behemoth intends to ramp up investments here in training, cloud computing and logistics. Malaysia, Ma says, is an integral part of Alibaba’s expansion push in emerging Southeast Asia. “This is not just the hub of Malaysia; it is the hub of this region,” he says.

Malaysia is Alibaba’s first electronic world trade platform (eWTP) hub outside of China. The eWTP network is part of Ma’s vision to reduce barriers and make it easier for Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to trade globally.

“People say that Jack Ma came here (to Malaysia) to save eWTP,” says Ma. “It doesn’t need to be saved. We came here to keep our commitment to Malaysia,” he emphasised.

“Honestly, we don’t want to come here build up logistics warehouses everywhere. If nobody wants to do it, we do it. But if others want to do it, we enable them to do it more efficiently. This is our strategy.”

Under Alibaba’s logistics initiative, its affiliate Cainiao has teamed up with Malaysia Airports Holdings to develop a regional e-commerce and logistics hub in KLIA Aeropolis.

We came here because we believe our technology and know-how can enable the small business and young people

“The Cainiao mission in the next ten years is to ensure global delivery within 72 hours. We want to make Malaysia part of the very important hub, to be part of the 72 hour delivery mission,” saysMa. Construction of the e-fulfillment hub has begun. It expected to start operations in 2020.

“We came here because we believe our technology and know-how can enable the small businesses and young people,” says Ma.

He cites India’s PayTM as example, an e-commerce payment system and digital wallet company backed by Alibaba and Softbank. “We made them the local hero (in tech financing).”

“We didn’t come here to compete; we came here to enable,” says Ma.