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Trade War

Jack Ma calls for 'inclusive chips' amid US ban on ZTE

Alibaba head says countries 'should have their own technology'

Jack Ma, Alibaba co-founder and executive chairman, speaks to students at Waseda University in Tokyo on April 25. (Photo by Kaisuke Ohta)

TOKYO -- Jack Ma on Wednesday warned companies in China and elsewhere against relying on U.S. companies for chips, after Washington's recent move to ban Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE from buying American-made components.

"The market of chips is controlled by America ... and suddenly they stop selling," Ma, the billionaire co-founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, told an audience of students at Waseda University in Tokyo. "Japan, China, any country should have their own technology. A company should take responsibility for its customers, for the global future."

Alibaba last week said it acquired Chinese chipmaker Hangzhou C-SKY Microsystems to expand its own chipmaking capabilities.

The deal came days after the U.S. government penalized ZTE with a seven-year ban on buying American technology, a move that highlighted growing tensions between the U.S. and China. ZTE buys the bulk of its processors from American chipmakers such as Intel and Qualcomm.

Ma said the decision by Alibaba to invest in chipmaking technology was made before the ban was announced and that the timing was a "coincidence."

He said that the components, which were previously oriented to personal computers, need to become less expensive and more efficient as they become widely used in the "internet of things" era. Alibaba has invested in five chip manufacturers over the past four years, he noted.

At the same time, however, Ma warned against protectionist policies by calling for "inclusive chips" that "can be shared."

"For our chips, it's not about competition but inclusiveness," he said. "It's about anybody, anywhere, anytime, people should be able to reach technology [that] brings benefits to the world."

The acquisition of Hangzhou C-SKY Microsystems "underlines our commitment to driving the development of the chip industry," an Alibaba spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Ma, a former university English teacher, mostly discussed leadership in a dialogue with students-turned-entrepreneurs at Waseda.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, we are entering a world where people don't trust each other," he replied when asked for advice on building back trust. "That is why we have a trade war. But don't give up."

Nikkei staff writer Nikki Sun in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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