Jack Ma (R), founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, and at the time President-elect Donald Trump pose for the media after their meeting at Trump Tower on January 9, 2017.

Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

Jack Ma (R), founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, and at the time President-elect Donald Trump pose for the media after their meeting at Trump Tower on January 9, 2017.

China’s short-term economic outlook will be “tougher than expected” and trade friction was inevitable with the U.S., Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma said as China was reported to be lowering its growth target for this year.

“In the coming three to five years … the economic situation will be even more arduous than everyone had expected,” said the e-commerce billionaire on Wednesday at an annual meeting of the General Association of Zhejiang Entrepreneurs, a private business association that he chairs.

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

On Thursday, Reuters cited policy sources as saying China would lower its 2017 economic growth target to about 6.5 percent from last year’s 6.5-7 percent, reinforcing a policy shift from supporting growth towards reforms to contain debt and housing risks.

China’s economy grew by about 6.7 percent last year, the slowest in 26 years but within Beijing’s target range.

At the meeting, Ma said it was “only natural” that China’s rapid growth over the past three decades could not continue, and that the focus should be shifted to the quality of growth, such as upgrading its manufacturing industry.

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