SHANGHAI • The US-China trade war is the "stupidest thing in the world", Alibaba e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma declared at an import fair that China opened yesterday partly to counter foreign criticism of its trade policies.
Mr Ma, who recently took back an earlier pledge to create a million jobs in the United States - blaming the trade war launched by US President Donald Trump - made the comments in a panel discussion at the massive expo in Shanghai.
"(The) trade war is the... stupidest thing in this world," said the Alibaba founder, without mentioning Mr Trump by name.
"Trade is to form... peace. Trade is to communicate... Nobody can stop free trade."
Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the China International Import Expo yesterday with a pledge to widen access to his country's economy, as Beijing faces growing impatience from trading partners.
But he also delivered a veiled rebuke to Trumpism, decrying "protectionism", "isolationism" and "the law of the jungle".
Mr Ma, the billionaire owner of China's largest online shopping portal, made the headline-grabbing job-creation promise to Mr Trump last year, when Beijing was still courting the then newly elected President.
But Mr Ma told China's official news agency Xinhua in September that the trade war had "destroyed the premise the promise was made on".
Anger over the trade surpluses that China enjoys has triggered growing foreign criticism and the worsening commercial conflict with Washington, which has seen both sides impose punitive tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods.
Beijing has touted the first annual import expo as a sign of its willingness to take in more imports and thereby reduce the surpluses.
Mr Ma, who announced in September that he would step down in a year's time to focus on philanthropy, said China's plans to remake itself as an importing nation would provoke resistance from vested interests.
"It's the greatest challenge for China. It's a great opportunity for the world," he said.
The shift will "fundamentally change... the whole infrastructure of business and (the) ecosystem. It's going to be a huge pain to a lot of businesses, but it's also going to be a good opportunity for a lot of consumers".
Mr Ma's comments come as Alibaba is on the verge of kicking off its most important annual shopping event - Singles' Day on Nov 11 - an online bargains extravaganza that often has a heavy foreign commerce component.
While Alibaba gets most of its revenue from domestic commerce, Mr Ma and his fellow executives have championed China as a destination for foreign-made products - American or otherwise.
The company hosts major brands like Nike and Urban Outfitters on sites such as Tmall Global that showcase international merchandise for local consumers.
Roche Holding chairman Christoph Franz was among those who echoed Mr Ma's comments yesterday.
"Swiss wealth is entirely created by open borders and trade, and that can serve as a lighthouse to other countries," Mr Franz said at the same discussion.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG