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Alibaba Diplomacy: Jack Ma Says China-U.S. Relations Should Be ‘More Friendly’

The meeting between U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Alibaba chairman Jack Ma on January 9 in New York has got netizens talking. Could Sino-American relations indeed be strengthened through ‘Alibaba diplomacy’?

Manya Koetse

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The meeting between U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Alibaba founder Jack Ma has got Chinese netizens talking. Could Sino-U.S. relations be strengthened through ‘Alibaba diplomacy’?

“Jack and I are going to do great things,” U.S President-elect Donald Trump said after his meeting with Alibaba CEO Jack Ma (马云). The Chinese billionaire immediately added to that: “We are going to focus on small business.”

 

“We think the China-U.S. relationship should be strengthened and should be more friendly.”

 

“It was a productive meeting,” Ma later told the press: “We talked about helping American small businesses to sell things through the Alibaba platform, to China and to Asia.” He further said: “We also think the China-U.S. relationship should be strengthened and should be more friendly.”

Ma called Trump “very smart” and “open-minded”, and indicated that doing business was the path towards stronger Sino-American relations. He also spoke about his plans to create a million jobs in the U.S. by bringing American (agricultural) sellers onto his platform.

The focus on small American business will especially be on the Midwest, with Alibaba facilitating the sales of products like garments, wine or fruits from the U.S. to (Southeast) Asia.

The meeting, that took place in the early morning of January 10 (Beijing time) in the New York Trump Tower, received much attention on Chinese social media, where state media outlets such as People’s Daily reported about the new collaboration.

 

“Jack Ma is one of the few capable Chinese people who can engage in public diplomacy.”

 

In the Chinese Financial Times, Chinas’s Jilin University Foreign Affairs Professor Sun Xingjie (孙兴杰) said that when the traditional foreign diplomacy channels between two countries are somehow strained, it is good to take a different route to kick-start public diplomacy.

“Jack Ma is one of the few capable Chinese people who can engage in public diplomacy,” according to Sun.

The Chinese public opinion towards Trump has been going up and down over the past few months, as I recently also explained on Al Jazeera (see video below).

A generally positive view on Trump when he was elected, shifted to a more negative one after the Taipei phone call and the Fox Interview, in which Trump challenged the One China Policy.

Many called Trump an “idiot” and said he had “zero understanding of how diplomacy works.”

Jack Ma, on the other hand, is the most respected entrepreneur of China. Bookstores have entire sections dedicated to the business magnate, who is not just known as the richest man of China, but also as a welldoer and an influential who keeps, in his own words, “a very good love relationship with the government” (Lee & Song 2016, 33).

 

“Jack Ma should become the Chinese ambassador to the United States.”

 

Could Sino-American relations indeed be strengthened through ‘Alibaba diplomacy’? For now, it seems that the Chinese government supports the Trump-Ma meeting.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang responded to the Trump-Ma meeting on Wednesday, saying that China-US trade relations are mutually beneficial and that the potential of successful flourishing cooperations between the two biggest economic powers in the world is “enormous.” The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it strongly encourages the strengthening of Sino-American cooperations.

Some netizens wondered what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to do with Jack Ma’s Trump meeting at all, but many found the relevance of the meeting for bilateral relations indisputable: “Of course this is relevant to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs!” some responded, with others even suggesting that Jack Ma should become the Chinese ambassador to the United States.

Many commenters responded to the Trump-Ma meeting with the Chinese idiom “yī mǎ píng chuān” (一马平川), “a horse galloping straight across the flat land”, which means that everything goes smoothly and that there are no boundaries or hurdles.

But the idiom also is a word joke, as it contains the characters of the Chinese names of Trump (川) and Ma (马: literally ‘horse’), which would change the idiom’s meaning to: “Ma galloping straight across Trump”, meaning Jack Ma could knock out Trump in one hit.

 

“When you eat dumplings you need garlic sauce, when you deal with Trump you need Jack Ma.”

 

Different from last December, Weibo users hardly spoke ill of Trump now. Instead, they expressed their admiration for Ma – not just because of his successful business but also because of his English proficiency: “He should become the head of the Foreign Trade Office, he needs no translators, brings his own money, and can speak his mind without needing anyone else,” one commenter says.

Many Chinese web users seemed to take pride in Ma’s meeting with the President-elect. “Ma Yun [Jack Ma] for president!” was a much recurring phrase.

Despite the general positive mood about the Trump-Ma meeting, not all people were happy about it. Some called Ma a traitor to his country. “It’s nice that Jack Ma has said that he would create a million new jobs,” one person responded: “It is just a pity it is not in China.”

But many did see the benefit of taking the Alibaba route in creating friendlier Sino-U.S. relations: “Different situations call for different measures,” one Weibo user from Shandong stated: “When you eat dumplings you need garlic sauce, when you deal with a businessman [like Trump] you need Jack Ma.”

Trump’s pragmatism, unconventionality, and his business background were one of the reasons why many Chinese netizens took a liking to him. Many seem to think that a businessman like Trump also needs a different kind of diplomatic approach – and that Jack Ma is the right person to do it.

 

“Born in China but created for the world.”

 

While Chinese bloggers jokingly call Ma China’s “special ambassador” (特使), Jack Ma’s meeting with Trump ultimately is not a political move but a commercial one.

A closer cooperation with the United States would further strengthen the Alibaba brand, which was created in China with the idea that everyone, no matter where, could be an online seller.

Within China, this has come true with the success of e-commerce platforms like Taobao and Tmall.

But one of the Alibaba slogans states that the brand is “born in China but created for the world,” and thus Ma wants Alibaba to be a stronger international platform.

Alibaba’s promotional video below shows that the platform has boundless international ambitions, with rural families from China now being able to buy fresh fish from New Zealand through Tmall and even having the option to dispatch a New Zealand chef to come and cook it for them.

Tying more American small businesses to Alibaba would further internationalize Alibaba and open up a larger market for Chinese and Asian consumers.

In the end, this might be good for China-U.S. relations, but above all, it is good for Alibaba. When it also serves a diplomatic goal in doing so, it is just killing two birds with one stone; like getting the dumplings with the garlic sauce, and eating them together with Trump.

– By Manya Koetse
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References

Lee, Suk and Bob Song. 2016. Never Give Up: Jack Ma In His Own Words. Chicago: B2 Books.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

U.S. Embassy Launches WeChat Stickers Featuring Cartoon Eagle

A Weibo hashtag about the eagle stickers, that feature some phrases previously used by China’s Foreign Ministry, has now been taken offline.

Manya Koetse

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On January 30, the American Embassy in China announced the launch of its very own series of social media gifs, a special ’emoticon collection’ (表情包), featuring a little, somewhat silly cartoon eagle.

The U.S. Embassy launched the eagle series on WeChat and also announced the series on their Weibo account, writing that the eagle made its first public appearance in light of the festivities surrounding the Chinese New Year.

The eagle is called “Xiaomei” or “Little Mei” (鹰小美). The ‘mei’ is part of 美国 Měiguó, Chinese for the ‘United States,’ but měi also means beautiful and pretty.

The American embassy issued a total of 16 different animated stickers, and they’re intended to be used on Tencent’s WeChat, where users can download all kinds of different emoticons or stickers to use in conversations.

WeChat users often use many different animated stickers in conversations to express emotions, make jokes, or increase the festive mood (by sending out celebratory New Year’s or birthday etc gifs). Users can download new and preferred sticker packages through the app’s sticker section.

One sticker shows Xiaomei with a festive decoration with 福 () for blessing and prosperity, wishing everyone a happy start to the Chinese Lunar New Year. There are also stickers showing the texts “happy winter,” “hi,” and “thank you.”

Another sticker in the series that has triggered some online responses is one that shows the eagle with a surprised look, wiping its eyes, with the words “wait and see” written above. The Chinese expression used is 拭目以待 shìmù yǐdài, to eagerly wait for something to happen, literally meaning to wipe one’s eyes and wait.

This same expression was often used by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) during press conferences, and he also used it in 2022 when responding to questions related to Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan and how the Chinese military would respond (e.g. he first used “wait and see” in the context of waiting to see if Pelosi would actually dare to go to Taiwan or not). But Zhao also used “please wait and see” (请大家拭目以待) when foreign reporters asked him how China would respond to the announced U.S. boycott of the Winter Olympics in 2021.

The Little Mei emoji triggered the most responses as some netizens felt it was meant as a sneer to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

One of Little Mei’s quotes is also “remain calm” (保持冷静 bǎochí lěngjìng), which was – perhaps coincidentally – also often used by Zhao in the context of the war in Ukraine and to refer to other international conflicts or tensions (“all parties should remain calm”). The animated sticker also has olive branches growing behind the eagle.

It recently became known that Zhao, who became known as the ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat, was removed as the Foreign Ministry spokesperson and was moved to the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs.

Especially in the context of Zhao leaving his post, some wondered why the U.S. Embassy would use phrases related to his press conferences for their new emoticons.

Although some people suggested the WeChat stickers were not launched in China with good intentions, others appreciated the humorous visuals and felt it was funny. Some also joked that America was infiltrating Chinese social media with its cultural export (“文化输出”), and others wondered if they could not also introduce some other stickers with more Chinese Foreign Ministry popular phrases on them.

A hashtag related to the topic made its rounds on Weibo on Tuesday (#美驻华大使馆上线鹰小美表情包#), but the topic suddenly was taken offline on Tuesday evening local time, along with some of the media reports about the remarkable WeChat series.

The WeChat stickers are still available for downloading by scanning the QR code below through WeChat.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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