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Hard times ahead for China’s economy, says Alibaba tycoon

Jack Ma (R), founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, and at the time President-elect Donald Trump pose for the media after their meeting at Trump Tower on January 9, 2017.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images
Jack Ma (R), founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, and at the time President-elect Donald Trump pose for the media after their meeting at Trump Tower on January 9, 2017.

China's short-term economic outlook will be "tougher than expected" and trade friction was inevitable with the U.S., Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma said as China was reported to be lowering its growth target for this year.

"In the coming three to five years … the economic situation will be even more arduous than everyone had expected," said the e-commerce billionaire on Wednesday at an annual meeting of the General Association of Zhejiang Entrepreneurs, a private business association that he chairs.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

On Thursday, Reuters cited policy sources as saying China would lower its 2017 economic growth target to about 6.5 percent from last year's 6.5-7 percent, reinforcing a policy shift from supporting growth towards reforms to contain debt and housing risks.

China's economy grew by about 6.7 percent last year, the slowest in 26 years but within Beijing's target range.

At the meeting, Ma said it was "only natural" that China's rapid growth over the past three decades could not continue, and that the focus should be shifted to the quality of growth, such as upgrading its manufacturing industry.

Ma also shared his outlook on China-U.S. relations, as well as his impression of U.S. President Donald Trump, whom he met at Trump Tower in New York.

Despite an "overall optimistic" outlook on trade between the world's two largest economies, Ma said conflicts "will definitely be there".

"If [the conflicts] were not dealt with properly, they might lead to a relatively big trade war, which is not a good thing for China, the U.S. or the world economy," he said.

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Trump has accused China of being a currency manipulator and has proposed steep tariffs on imports from China.

Ma said Trump should not be underestimated.

"It is only that his speaking style and the way he does things are different from what we're used to expecting from politicians. He saw the many problems existing now in the U.S. and he hopes to solve them in a different way.

"He is a businessman, a man of action and result-oriented," Ma said, adding that he believed the new U.S. president was "a very smart person".

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