Photos by Marcel de Buck and Peter Cox
Ali-Atlas: Mapping Alibaba Diplomacy
In a globalised but politically fractious world, the meaning of national borders have transformed in complex ways. While the migration of people becomes an increasingly contentious political issue, the frictionless movement of goods and materials is the fundamental logic that enables contemporary humanity to survive and function. Products cross borders multiple times over the timeline of their creation, and the “made in” tag is a simplistic anachronism with more significance as marketing than as material history. In the past decade, some Western politicians have adopted the populist rhetoric of bringing back manufacture to post-industrial economies as a mechanism for working-class job growth and social cohesion. According to Jack Ma, however, this strategy is incompatible with the rise in automation as well as a failure of vision for the potential of humans in the near future. “We should not talk about ‘Made in China’, ‘Made in America,” he said in 2017. “It’s going to be ‘Made in the Internet.’”
But is it possible to implement an online vision without intervening in the real, offline world? While many hi-tech CEOs seem to have an antagonistic or, at best, distant relationship with governments over issues such as corporate tax avoidance or privacy, Ma has developed a strong public profile as a business leader with a benevolent dream to connect and empower the citizens of countries all over the world. His meetings with countless international political leaders are well-documented in the media, and his forecasts for future development avoid divisive statements that would appear nationalistic or damage Alibaba’s relationship with specific countries. As a form of “Alibaba Diplomacy”, Ma employs the tools of traditional international relations, thus blurring the boundaries between private companies and nation states. Given his aspirations to make Alibaba the fifth-biggest economy in the world in less than 20 years, this research looks at how the online empire is reshaping transnational geographies and socioeconomic structures.
Research Assistant: Naomi Veenhoven
Graphic Design Assistants: Ganghyun Yi, Bohye Woo
Assistant: Lucandrea Baraldi
Special thanks: Trudy Dorrepaal
Read an interview with Maxime Benvenuto on The Global Politics of Jack Ma Link
Maxime Benvenuto is a French design researcher based in Rotterdam. In his work, he deals with topics reaching to politics, democracy, journalism and human rights, questioning their relation to space and media landscapes.