Top Alibaba Exec Lashes Out at U.S. Attempts to Contain China

(Bloomberg) -- Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Vice Chairman Joseph Tsai struck out at some of China’s most vocal critics, saying their understanding of the country was flawed and they just wanted to stall its technological advancement.

The billionaire name-checked U.S. Senator Mark Warner -- who’s argued some Chinese companies pose a security risk to the U.S. and had bullied American companies into transferring key technology. At the heart of China-U.S. trade tensions is Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” blueprint for transforming the country into a manufacturing power in everything from robots to aircraft. U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on $50 billion of imports targets many of the industries highlighted in that plan.

“There’s nothing wrong with a country wanting to up its tech and be more innovative. From the Chinese perspective, we see a lot of people who want to stop China from doing that,” Tsai said in an interview at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. “People like Senator Warner want to hold China back. I would disagree with his characterization of China.”

The U.S. government has also made it increasingly difficult for Chinese companies to make acquisitions. Ant Financial, the Chinese financial services giant controlled by Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, abandoned a plan to buy MoneyGram International Inc. after failing to win approval for the deal from a key U.S. government panel. Tsai said Alibaba itself hasn’t tried to do a large acquisition in the U.S. and that it’s taking minority equity stakes.

Alibaba generates most of its revenue from China but it’s trying to get more American merchants to sell to consumers back home. Despite trade tensions between the two countries, Tsai -- who’s eyed a chunk of the Brooklyn Nets -- says Alibaba is focused on the longer term and working “to get small businesses and farmers to see how big of a market there is in China.”

“We’re looking for people who are highly entrepreneurial and who need our help expanding into China,” Tsai added.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.