Jack Ma, the billionaire founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, strolled into Trump Tower on Monday to talk to Donald J. Trump about a plan to create 1 million U.S. jobs – or that’s how they sold it.
Trump’s incoming press secretary said the tycoons would discuss “how Alibaba can create 1 million U.S. jobs by enabling 1 million U.S. small businesses to sell goods into the China and the Asian marketplace.”
For its part, the company pitched it as a certainty: “Alibaba,” it said in a statement, “will create 1 million U.S. jobs.” When Trump and Ma emerged, the president-elect said it was “great” meeting; Ma nodded. “Job Boom,” cooed CNBC. So case closed on those million new gigs?
Hardly. For those seeking clues about the president-elect’s foreign policy, Monday’s exchange confirmed two things: a focus on trade and fuzziness on numbers.
On some levels, the meet made sense: Trump wants to be seen as negotiator-in-chief, so why not meet with the head of a trading empire? Ma, whose business was recently returned by the U.S. to the list of “notorious markets” for selling fakes, got good press from the soon-to-be most powerful man in the world.
But the deal they said they discussed – and pitched to the press as fact – does not add up. “Theatrics,” said Duncan Clark, the author of “Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built.” He Maochun, an expert on economic diplomacy at Beijing’s Tsinghua University called it a “nice hope.”
Indeed, a look at the numbers suggests Americans expecting 1 million actual jobs will almost certainly be disappointed. There’s no question that a million new jobs would be, to use Trump’s word, yuge. Americans want jobs; Trump wants to deliver them.