Jack Ma economic advisor

Alibaba Group has confirmed that Jack Ma has accepted the offer and will serve as an economic advisor to the Indonesian government, reports Tech in Asia. The goal is to have Ma help develop the Southeast Asian country’s growing ecommerce industry.

Ma will be a part of Indonesia’s ‘steering committee’ consisting of 10 ministers.

“The thinking behind this is to make Indonesia’s positioning in the international marketplace more prominent,” Rudiantara, Indonesian Communication and Information Minister, said in a video released by the state secretariat.

Tech in Asia speculated that it was probable that Ma would accept the offer as Alibaba is clearly interested in Southeast Asia. The ecommerce giant bought a controlling stake in Lazada earlier this year and Lazada Indonesia already has a degree of Alipay integration since the deal finalized.

However, it is not clear to what Ma’s role would entail, as details regarding the ‘ecommerce advisor’ position has not been revealed by Alibaba Group or the Indonesian government.

There could be potential conflict of interest between his role as advisor and owner of Alibaba/Lazada, which competes with Indonesian players, many owned by ethnic Chinese conglomerates such like Djarum and Lippo. The company has not commented on this.

Ma will have to weigh several key factors upon accepting this position. How would helping Indonesia play in China? Chinese comments on a news story about Ma being offered the advisor position were full of anger at Indonesia, citing grievances ranging from the 1998 Indonesian riots that targeted ethnic Chinese to current South China Sea disputes.

This may be the best move yet for Alibaba Group’s strategic position in Southeast Asia.

A version of this was published in Tech in Asia on September 7. Read the full version here

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