By SUTHICHAI YOON
ALIBABA GROUP founder Jack Ma has urged Thailand to “move much faster” to implement digital projects.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation in his office at Alibaba Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou last week, he said he plans to visit Thailand later this year to “upgrade our partnership” in all major digital fields covering e-commerce, logistics, finance, payments and travel.
“I am heading a big delegation, including our CEO and our teams including Alipay, logistics, e-commerce, and cloud computing – the whole package from Alibaba Group,” he said.
Ma, who is also executive chairman of the group, said that compared to Malaysia, Thailand is moving slowly in implementing digital projects and had to “move much faster”.
“Honestly, we were shocked by Malaysia’s speed,” said Ma.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak surprised him after a visit to Alibaba Group headquarters with his “very quick action” in making that country the first e-WTP (World Trade Platform) hub in the region, he said.
“The prime minister said, ‘In three months, we will make this thing happen’,” Ma recalled. “We thought it was almost impossible to make that happen in three months. It was a huge project, but they made it on time. They set up a great, strong team to follow up on the project. They opened up a customs office, inspection offices and made available the land that was required.
“So, I think Thailand should move more speedily. This is something we expect. But we understand, of course, that the process was probably disrupted by the passing away of His Majesty the King.”
Looking ahead, he said: “When we go to Thailand this time, we will discuss that because in a business like ours, we need speed, we need execution and we need results. I believe Thailand can do that, too, because you have great talents and you have a government that can move quickly. So, this time, when we can agree on the projects, we will move ahead and get things done.”
Based on the initial agreements signed on his first trip to Thailand last year, Ma said he would expand business relationships with Thailand with an eye to using it as a springboard to neighbouring countries.
“I still remember the very warm welcome we received from Prime Minister Prayut (Chan-o-cha) and all the Cabinet members concerned during my last visit – and also the engagement I had with the young people there.”
He says he wants to help Thailand in its goal to be an entry-point for accessing nearby nations. “What I would like to do is to work out how to help Thailand to be better connected with other Southeast Asian markets and to be more connected with the China market … in the five major areas: global buy, global sale, global delivery, global financing and global travel.”
Alibaba Group can help SMEs and young people succeed in the five areas and that would enable Thailand to connect with other countries, especially China. Thailand, he said, is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia that has the five functions in place.
“So, we pay very special attention to Thailand. Our research team is still working hard on how to help Thailand function in better ways,” he said.
“My CEO (Daniel Zhang) and I have been thinking about how to help Thailand become more globalised. So many Chinese travel to Thailand. They love Thailand, the Thai food and the Thai people.”
The Alibaba founder said Thailand could benefit from selling to the 300 million middle-class Chinese with growing purchasing power.
“My wife likes Thai durian a lot. I believe China should import more fresh fruits and vegetables from Thailand and other countries in the region,” he said.
In addition to Malaysia, he cited Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia as Asian countries on his group’s special attention list to become e-WTP centres.
He said that his plan to turn China into a cashless society in five years will help change the face of the digital payments system in the near future.
“With the new digital money system, Chinese tourists going to Thailand will not have to bring cash,” he said. “You could go to any bar, any restaurant, any shop and just use our mobile payments service,” he said, adding that in the future you may not even need to carry a passport.
Ma confirmed that Lazada, a regional e-commerce company in which the Alibaba Group now holds about 83 per cent equity, has drawn up a proposal to set up a major e-commerce park in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor.