Jack Ma: Confident US-China tensions will pass

China will be largest buyer in the world: Jack Ma
China will be largest buyer in the world: Jack Ma
Jack Ma's pitch for US business
Jack Ma's pitch for US business
Alibaba bull lowers price target
Alibaba bull lowers price target

Relations between the U.S. and China may be tense right now, but they will eventually be solved, according to one of the world's richest men.

Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, told CNBC on Wednesday that he is "confident" that the current tensions between the two global powers will pass.

"If you say I don't worry, that's not true, but if I worry what can I do?" Ma said after participating in a town hall-style event in Chicago. "Today some of the relations are like a chicken talks to ducks: Everyone has his own language."

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Issues between the two countries include accusations of state-sponsored hacking and a war of words over land claims in the South China Sea. These can be solved, Ma said, through better cross-border dialogue.

"If we work together, that will make us understand each other, appreciate each other, help each other," he said, adding, "I'm pretty confident."

Ma said he expects younger, Internet-savvy generations to lead the charge on these endeavors, and he thinks companies should apply this logic to their own workforce.

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"The younger generation is always better than (the) last generation," he said, admitting he thinks he is objectively better than his father, and his children are better than he. "If you want to keep this company innovative, if you want the company to catch the future, keep the vision, rely on the young people."

Alibaba, the massive Chinese e-commerce firm, is working to expand its international presence, and Ma is touring the U.S. this week to pitch his platform to American businesses.

Jack Ma, of Alibaba Group, addresses the Economic Club of New York at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, June 9, 2015.
Mike Segar | Reuters

Ma's argument is that Alibaba is a way for small businesses to find success in the global digital marketplace, and he is calling for American firms to get involved.

"China has been focused on exporting for the past 20 years, and I think in the next 10 to 20 years China should be focusing on importing. China should learn to buy, China should spend the money, China should buy a lot of its things globally," he said at an Tuesday event hosted by the Economic Club of New York. "And I think that American small business, American-branded products, should use the Internet and go to China."

This business proposition could actually work for everyone involved, according to analysts covering the company.

"His pitch really makes a tremendous amount of sense," said Daniel Ernst of Welch Capital Partners. "For most American businesses, [China] is a relatively difficult market to access and he has this platform.... It's so good that actually Apple and Amazon have stores on Alibaba."

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But the fact that big companies are finding success on Alibaba, doesn't mean small business will flock to the platform.

"U.S. large businesses and global large businesses are already in on the Alibaba secret," RBC Capital Markets' Mark Mahaney said, adding that companies such as Gap, Timberland, Nike and Burberry are selling on Alibaba platforms. "It's a much tougher pitch, however, that he has ahead of him trying to get small business to think about ... China as an export market."

The Alibaba founder has been touting the sale of cherries from the Pacific Northwest as an example of small businesses leveraging his platform. For its part, a cherry industry group said it had a positive experience with the company, but that it didn't actually see a major impact on volumes.

"It's a great platform for the cherry industry to reach out to the Chinese consumers, and it's a great platform for us to build our brand with Tmall and Alibaba," said Keith Hu, director of international operations at Northwest Cherry Growers.

Still, the story of cherries is hardly one of a small business using Alibaba to enter China for the first time.

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That industry had already carved out a costumer base in China's major cities before it ever went to Alibaba's marketplace, Hu said. Even now, U.S. cherries' annual China-wide volume is about 20,000 tons, and the industry is only hoping to exceed 1,000 tons through Tmall this year.

"The value, at least for the cherry industry, is not so much in (selling) a large volume of cherries, the value is their e-commerce power to drive the product and brand into second and third-tier cities in China," Hu explained.

Ma may try to bring Alibaba to U.S. consumers one day, but for now he is focusing on his expertise at managing Chinese consumers, Ernst said, adding that "it's a tremendous idea and so I think that will actually be very successful."

The Chinese billionaire's current U.S. trip is focusing on e-commerce, but he told CNBC that he is looking elsewhere for his company's future.

"We are pretty confident in the next 10 years for our e-commerce business, our financing business, but we think about the 10 years later," he said. "What are the key businesses? We will focus on health and happiness. These are the two areas that we're starting testing now."

As for the NYSE-traded stock, analysts remain positive, with the average Wall Street target price around $107.20, according to FactSet. Shares traded at about $88.50 Wednesday afternoon.

"Consensus needs to come down," Mahaney said, noting that several factors may weigh on the company's shares. Still, he added, the market seems to have taken those worries into consideration, so he has a positive rating and a $105 target on the firm.

"There's an opportunity on the long side in this stock," he said.

—CNBC's David Faber contributed to this report.