Jack Ma Founder and executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group in Brussels, Belgium - 03 Jul 2018Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group arrives for a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel at the Lambermont in Brussels, Belgium, 03 July 2018.

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a roster of high-profile executives kicked off the VivaTech fair Thursday, with Alibaba chairman and cofounder Jack Ma taking to the stage to share his views on education in a digital age, his company’s future, China’s rapid rise in the digital sphere and European regulation.

“Where we have problems, we start to solve the problems, then think about rules and laws,” said the charismatic executive, referring to his country’s approach, and comparing it to Europe.

“They have a problem? They start to make rules and laws. I worry about Europe,” he said. 

“I worry about the worries of Europe. Africa does not worry, Asia does not worry,” he continued. 

Noting concern about artificial intelligence, the executive said the company would employ such technology to “catch thieves.”

While “bad guys are doing bad things, we’re using artificial intelligence to catch the bad guys,” he said noting the “yin and yang balance” of the situation. With trillions of transactions on its payment system, Alipay, “a lot of people want to steal money,” he added. 

The executive suggested it was a matter of how people view technology.

“If you see technology as a problem, I’m sorry to say the problem has just started. If you see it as an opportunity, the opportunity just started,” he said. 

Looking to the future, by 2036, Alibaba seeks to build a digital economy that will help to create 100 million jobs, serve 2 billion consumers in the world, and support the profitability of 10 million businesses on its platform, he said. 

“We want to empower everybody, every young [person], every small business.”

The idea is to offer services globally:

“You have a mobile phone? You can global buy it, global sell, global deliver, global pay and global travel,” he said.

Speaking of the company’s annual singles’ day shopping bonanza, eleven-eleven, which pulled in $30 billion in sales during last year’s edition, he predicted a larger figure this year.

“It’s become the largest shopping festival and last year we sold $30 billion — this year it will go up,” he said. Noting that the sale day is only geared to single people in China for the moment, he added:

“There are a lot of single people here in France.”

The former teacher said he wants to return to the profession, to draw up ways to adapt the education system to a digital era.

Meeting with Macron earlier, the executive spoke with the French president about developing the exportation of products from French brands to China, ranging from food, like cheese, to luxury goods. Discussions centered on digital services Alibaba could offer small- and medium-size French companies to help them access the Chinese market, with the two agreeing on the considerable potential for French brands there, while the French president stressed the importance of protecting intellectual property, the president’s office said.

While trade tensions flare up between the U.S. and China, with the Trump administration calling Huawei a spying threat, Macron struck a welcoming tone to foreign tech companies interested in doing business in France. 

“Everybody is welcome to do business and to create jobs in France,” said the French president, noting the country would not pursue ‘overprotectionism’ when it comes to large global tech companies, which are needed to “fertilize our ecosystem.” 

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