China’s JD.com complains of ‘serious’ US protectionism

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A JD.com sign is seen during the fourth World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Aly Song/Files

DAVOS, Switzerland: The head of China’s second-biggest e-commerce company, JD.com Inc, accused the United States on Jan 24 of practising “serious” protectionism against Chinese firms and said this would ultimately backfire on the world’s largest economy.

“Many friends from other countries discuss protectionism in China but I think things have completely reversed,” JD.com Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Liu said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“One day it will hurt the US economy too,” said Liu, whose US$67bil (RM261.33bil) online retailer competes with bigger rival Alibaba Group Holding.

The United States on Tuesday slapped steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar panels in moves billed as a way to protect American jobs by President Donald Trump. They sparked condemnations from China and South Korea.

The US government also recently rejected Chinese firm Ant Financial’s plan to acquire US money transfer firm MoneyGram International Inc over national security concerns, the most high-profile Chinese deal to be torpedoed under the Trump administration.

The US government has toughened its stance on the sale of American companies to Chinese entities, at a time of already tense trade ties, with Washington vowing to narrow a large trade deficit with China which reached US$347bil (RM1.35tril) in 2016.

Liu said Nasdaq-listed JD.com not only wants to overtake Alibaba as the largest online retailer in China, but also become a global player. But like other Chinese CEOs, he said he had found it difficult to make forays into the US market.

For now, the company is focused on Southeast Asia, and would look to grow in the region both organically and by acquisition.

“It’s hard to use only one model. In Southeast Asia, we look for local partners to develop business, but we don’t want to exclude acquisitions,” Liu said.

In January, JD.com said it had made an investment in Vietnamese e-commerce firm Tiki.vn, the latest move in a strategic push into the region where Alibaba and Amazon have also made significant investments in the past year.