Alibaba founder Jack Ma was greeted at the Viva Technology conference in Paris like a conquering hero. During an hour-long question-and-answer session on stage, however, he made some rather astonishing claims about the reasons China has succeeded in tech while berating Europeans for being obsessed with regulations.
When the company started 20 years ago, he said, it caught on because China’s retail infrastructure was terrible. But it also benefited from the country’s lack of regulation at the time.
“We don’t have the rules, the laws,” he said. “Most of government officers, they don’t know how to make rules, laws for Internet because nobody realized what the Internet looked like, so that leave us chance to grow fast.”
He says that part of Europe’s problem today is that the region is obsessed with rules and control.
“Europe … very interesting,” he continued. “You have such perfect rules and laws. That everything follows rules and laws. Everything we think about we worry and when they worry, they make rules and laws. When we have problems, we start to solve the problem then think about rules and laws. You have a problem that can make rules and laws, so I worry about Europe. I worry, I worry about the worries of Europe.”
Oddly, the audience lapped all of this up and laughed and applauded. It didn’t occur to anyone to stop for a second and go: Wait a minute — you’re talking about … China? Land of the Great Firewall? Land where draconian restrictions on content have effectively prevented Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter from operating there?
Beyond that, Ma adopted very much a sensibility of self-made-man attitude when it comes to success. Chinese are successful because they work harder, he insisted. (Tight rules for years on foreign ownership definitely have nothing to do with it!) “If Jack Ma and his team can be successful, 80% of the world can be successful,” he said.
He also professed to be surprised by a question about China’s rising influence.
“Twenty years ago, you talk about China,” he said. “How can China compete with America? How can China compete with Europe? Twenty years later, people worry about China, I think, ‘Wow, I did not know we were that powerful?'”
“You worry, ‘Oh, we don’t have the solution for artificial intelligence! Oh, it’s going to destroy a lot of things, human life!'” he preached. “Let me tell you about artificial intelligence. We, Alibaba, are using it to arrest and catch a lot of thieves. … We are using artificial intelligence to catch bad guys.”
In general, his message about disruption and the future: Don’t worry! Be happy!
“If you see the tech revolution as a problem, I’m sorry to say the problem has just started,” he philosophized. “If you see it as an opportunity, it’s also just started. The only difference is your mentality. If your mentality is worried, then you’re going to worry all the time.”