Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., gestures during an accord signing ceremony with Russian Direct Investment Fund and Mail.ru on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Beijing: Billionaire Jack Ma sent out a grave warning regarding the trade war between the US and China: It’s going to last longer and have a bigger impact than most people think.

China’s richest man said the dispute could last 20 years and persist beyond the presidency of Donald Trump, as the world’s two strongest economic powers battle for global supremacy. China needs to strengthen its economy to deal with the conflict and shift trade relations from the US to regions like Southeast Asia and Africa, the chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. said during a speech at the company’s investor day conference in Hangzhou.

“Short term, business communities in China, US, Europe will all be in trouble,” Ma said, pacing a stage in an open white dress shirt and punctuating his remarks with forceful jabs. “This thing will last long. If you want a short-term solution, there is no solution.”

Ma said Alibaba will also be affected by the rising tensions, given its wholesale business allows American merchants to source products from China. But he also said the trauma will offer unprecedented opportunities for companies that can take advantage of them. “We should not focus on this quarter or next quarter or next year’s profit. This is a huge opportunity,” he said. “If Alibaba cannot sustain and grow, no company in China can grow. I’m 100 per cent confident in that.” Ma’s remarks carry particular weight because he is an icon of Chinese innovation and has been seen as an ambassador to the US. Last year, he met with Trump and promised to create 1 million jobs in the US through 2021.