Obama shuns protocol to interview Ma at APEC
Photograph by SeongJoon Cho — Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Scott Cendrowski
November 18, 2015

In a packed room of CEOs, President Obama lobbed questions at Alibaba founder Jack Ma about climate change today at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila.

Ma told Obama that Alibaba has been diverting 0.3 percentage points of revenues for the past six years towards programs for young people to focus on the environment. He recalled a story when he was 12, he almost drowned in a lake, which is now a dry lakebed.

Obama, along with China president Xi Jinping, oversaw a historic climate deal between the two countries in September that calls for China to adopt a carbon cap-and-trade system.

“Compared to 50 years ago, we are big,” Ma said about Alibaba. “ But compared to 50 years later, we are small. But if we do not care about this Earth, we do not care about the water, food, environment, I think nobody can survive whether you’re big or small. So this is the concern. This is the worry I have.”

Obama offered a chance for the charismatic Ma to impress his host at the same time Alibaba is focused on growing its brand in the U.S. and more attracting U.S. brands to its Taobao and Tmall platforms in mainland China.

“Jack, you have the benefit of being on both sides the equation: early entrepreneur, scratching and clawing to get things done and now a very successful businessman,” Obama said. “How can both government and larger companies” help people like you?

“Yeah, government is simple,” Ma said taking the pitch. “Just reduce the tax, or no tax for these guys.”

“Well, you’ve got a lot of cheers from your fellow CEOs, Obama said.

Ma also said he would accept an offer from Bill Gates to invest in clean energy technology and continue Alibaba’s program. “I just came back from Beijing three weeks ago, Ma said. “My throat was pained. It’s too late to complain whose fault. Whether your fault or my fault, let’s solve the problem together. It’s the combination — we’re combining the work of government, private sectors, scientists, and sociologists and philanthropists. We have to work together.”

Later in the APEC summit, Obama called on China to stop its program of building islands in the South China Seas, a couple days after promising $260 million in security aid to Vietnam, Indonesia, and other countries in the region feeling pressured by China’s expansionist rhetoric.

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