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"Recently, the cases of ZTE and Huawei have intensified. We are also constantly watching whether the trade war will turn into a tech war, " Ma said Tuesday, according to a CNBC translation of his Chinese remarks as published in 36kr.
"As a result, if we don't continue to work hard on basic research and key technologies, our digital economy will just be a high-rise built on sand, difficult to sustain, not to mention the transformation to new from old drivers of growth or the promotion of high-quality development," he said. He also noted that, since China has reached the front line of development, "there is less and less room for just taking ideas."
Trade tensions between the U.S. and China intensified this month. U.S. President Donald Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25% from 10% on May 10, to which Beijing responded a few days later with plans to impose tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods on June 1.
Trump has made reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China the center of the dispute, but the disagreement also covers U.S. complaints about requirements of forced technology transfer and lack of intellectual property protection. Last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce added Huawei Technologies and its affiliates to the Bureau of Industry and Security Entity List that will make it more difficult for U.S. companies to conduct business with the Chinese telecom giant.
Tencent runs China's ubiquitous messaging app WeChat and its WeChat mobile pay service, in addition to being a giant in gaming. A company representative was not immediately available for comment on the 36kr report.
Ma, who also goes by Ma Huateng, was giving unscheduled remarks at Tencent's Global Digital Ecosystem Summit in Kunming, China. Forbes said in March that he is the richest person in China.
Read the full 36kr report here.