China's internet king eyes world domination

By Clifford Coonan
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:36

one was a former champion bodybuilder and unstoppable cyborg on the big screen. The other is a diminutive former teacher turned China's small screen wunderkind. Who now packs the bigger punch is open to question.

Jack Ma, the founder of the world's biggest online business marketplace Alibaba, has his eyes set on global expansion and is already posing a strong challenge to the trading behemoth, eBay. And in a symbol of China's growing economic and entrepreneurial clout, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California, home to many of the US's hi-tech industries, travelled to the scenic east China city of Hangzhou for a piece of the action, with a high-profile appearance at the weekend with Mr Ma to set the seal on the entrepreneur's rapid rise to global prominence.

Alibaba's online marketplace now enjoys more than 80 per cent market share in China, and has more than 53 million users in 240 countries. Mr Ma dominates China, the world's biggest online market with 384 million users, and is now looking to expand his empire with a strong push into the fast-emerging economies of Russia, India and Brazil.

He is also eyeing the US, and and Mr Schwarzenegger wants to make sure that California profits from these ambitions, hence his decision to appear at Mr Ma's annual Alifest conference in the former English teacher's home town. The Governor said: "The internet is bringing the world together and making starting a business easier because it gives even small companies a low-cost way to reach suppliers and customers all over the world." has bought two major Californian e-commerce companies, Vendio and Auctiva, and is busy expanding its presence in the state. The two companies also give Alibaba more muscle to take on some of the world's mightiest electronic commerce companies.

The day before Alifest, Mr Ma had hosted eBay chief John Donahoe, who paid his respects to the new kid on the global e-business block who looks likely to dominate huge areas of the sector. Mr Ma said: "Every time I meet John I think we should do something together. We are competitors in some ways, but have same dream, same mission and same goal to help entrepreneurs. I believe one day we'll work very close to each other." EBay has 86 million users.

Mr Donahoe is keenly aware that Alibaba is shaping up to be serious competition for eBay globally, and that striking an alliance with Alibaba now might be the best way to hold off greater problems down the road. "I have enormous respect for what you've created," he told Mr Ma. "Alibaba Group is one of the world's greatest success stories."

Jack Ma, listed as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine, personifies the New China created by three decades of reform. An English graduate, he started his company in 1999, fiddling about on a dodgy internet connection that took nearly four hours to print out a page. Now his Taobao online retail site has 190 million customers in China and had transaction volume of nearly £19bn last year.

"Entrepreneurs of the world it is time to unite," said US ambassador Jon Huntsman at the event. "Jack Ma is creating the China Dream. The US-China relationship is the most important relationship in the world today."

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