HONG KONG (AFP) - Alibaba founder Jack Ma said his ambitious pledge to create one million jobs in the United States had been scuppered by the trade row between Beijing and Washington, Chinese state news reported on Thursday (Sept 20).
The billionaire owner of China's largest online shopping portal made the headline-grabbing promise to Mr Donald Trump last year, as Beijing courted the then-newly elected president.
But Mr Ma told Xinhua that his pledge had been made on the basis of continued cooperation and trade growth between the US and China, and would now be difficult to fulfil.
"However, the previous basis for trade has been undermined," he said in an interview on Tuesday.
"But we will continue to work hard to promote the healthy development of China-US trade."
Mr Ma's bold pledge following his January 2017 meeting at Trump Tower was greeted with scepticism by analysts at the time, who said the move was more about good public relations than substance.
One million jobs would be close to 1 per cent of all jobs in the US - meaning that successfully delivering on the pledge would make Alibaba one of the country's largest private employers.
In April, Mr Ma doubled down on his pledge, claiming 10 million jobs could be created "if China and the US maintain good trade relations".
But the trade dispute between the world's top two economies has swiftly escalated since Mr Trump took office, with a series of tit-for-tat tariffs brought on billions of dollars' worth of goods by both countries.
This week, Mr Trump said he would press ahead with 10 per cent levies on US$200 billion (S$273 billion) of imports - on top of US$50 billion already targeted - prompting Beijing to target another US$60 billion of US goods with 5 to 10 per cent taxes.
Mr Ma pointed to business opportunities in other regions such as Europe, South America, Russia and Africa, Xinhua said.
"There are still many things that Chinese companies should and can do. They still have many opportunities despite the trade frictions between China and the US," Mr Ma said.
"Trade is not a weapon and cannot be used for wars," he added. "Trade should be the propeller of peace."
Mr Ma announced this month that he would step down as head of the pioneering Chinese e-commerce giant in one year, handing over to Alibaba chief executive officer and anointed successor Daniel Zhang.
He has expressed a desire to follow in the philanthropic footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
"I'm just 54, and I still have at least 16 years to do something new," Mr Ma told Xinhua.
"It's exciting to have more than a dozen years to take on a new career."