China should be prepared for a long-drawn trade war with the United States that could last up to 20 years, said Alibaba chairman Jack Ma at the Chinese e-commerce giant's annual meeting yesterday.
While Mr Ma, 54, believes that many small and medium-sized firms will be hit hard by the trade war, he is optimistic that a new breed of innovative enterprises would be born out of these challenging times.
"Trade frictions are inevitable due to technological revolution, and they are also an inevitable outcome of the growth of both China and the US," Mr Ma said, amid growing concerns in the US over China's rise as a technological powerhouse.
Referring to the escalating trade war between the two countries, the influential tech tycoon urged the entrepreneurs and businessmen present to remain stoic.
"No matter what happens externally, we should focus on what we need to do," said Mr Ma, quoting a line from a fictional martial arts manual in swordfighting novel The Heaven Sword And Dragon Sabre.
"This trade war will not be resolved in two months or two years. We need to be mentally prepared for it to last 20 years," he warned.
"But 20 years is enough for any company to become the future Alibaba or Amazon," he said, noting that Alibaba has been around for only 19 years.
His comments came a day after Beijing announced new tariffs on US$60 billion (S$82 billion) worth of US goods in a tit-for-tat move.
On Monday, Washington said it will slap 10 per cent additional tariffs on about US$200 billion of Chinese imports on Monday. These tariffs will go up to 25 per cent by the end of this year.
Mr Ma spoke at the opening of the four-day Computing Conference in Hangzhou, the provincial capital of eastern Zhejiang province and home base of Alibaba.
The annual conference, which is into its ninth instalment, is aimed at showcasing Alibaba's latest technologies to more than 100,000 government officials, entrepreneurs, technology experts and industry players from across China.
The company yesterday laid out its development road map for frontier technologies, including quantum computing and artificial intelligence (AI) chips.
Its research academy plans to launch its first self-developed AI chip in the second half of next year for use in autonomous driving, smart cities and smart logistics.
It also announced the establishment of a new subsidiary that will focus on customised AI chips and embedded processors to further support the company's growing cloud computing and Internet of Things (IoT) businesses, as well as to provide intelligent solutions for different industries.
In his speech, Mr Ma spoke of the concept of new manufacturing. He noted that the future of manufacturing requires business owners to embrace new technologies such as AI, IoT and cloud computing.
He predicted that the manufacturing sector will soon go through the same "enormous pain" faced by the retail sector in the past decade when consumers turned to online shopping.
Mr Ma also declared that manufacturing in the future will not be bound by national boundaries. Instead of being made in a particular country, goods will be "Made in Internet".
And the main drivers of trade will no longer be factories and enterprises, but the tens of thousands of consumers, he explained.
"When manufacturing has no national boundaries and when every single person is involved in trade, the rules need to be reshaped," he added. "By then, the traditional trade war of today will no longer exist."