National People's Congress delegates Pony Ma, Wang Yaping and Xu Liyi (from right) address a media briefing on March 5, 2018. Photo: Xinhua
National People's Congress delegates Pony Ma, Wang Yaping and Xu Liyi (from right) address a media briefing on March 5, 2018. Photo: Xinhua

Congratulations to Tencent Holdings chairman Ma Huateng, who became the richest man in Asia this year. “Pony” Ma has a net worth of US$48.5 billion, nearly double what he was worth in March 2017, according to Forbes‘ latest rich list.

Ma is now ranked No 17 in the world, up from No 31 last year, leading a pack that includes Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma Yun (No 20, $38 billion) and tycoon Li Ka-shing (No 23, $31.2 billion).

Pony Ma’s high ranking came at the time when his company’s instant messaging service WeChat broke the 1 billion threshold in terms of active users during the Spring Festival, as he told the National People’s Congress on Monday.

Ma made a speech just before the first plenary session of the 13th People’s Congress that called for a deeper and broader drive toward building a “Digital China” in five areas – industrial, medical, financial, cultural and education – through integrating big data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

“China’s ‘Internet Plus’ strategy is an approach, while the digital economy is the result, both of which serve the goal of ‘building the country into a Digital China’ and an Internet power,” Ma said, according to China Daily.

On the medical front, for example, China has already used robotics in reading computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to screen early-stage cancer symptoms. But Ma wanted more, saying AI could be further applied to assist doctors in their daily diagnoses, especially in places where medical resources are scarce.

Another example is cultural and educational activities, namely games, where Tencent excels.

Ma said interactive games that use augmented-reality technology to allow for an immersive experience could be used to support efforts to preserve cultural heritage and raise public awareness.

He raised an example in the food industry where the Internet can improve the consumer experience. He said some consumers who are willing to pay double the price for a chicken raised in 90 days than for a normal one raised in 45 days could now use cloud data to search for the chicken they want to order online.

Thanks largely to the rise of Tencent and Alibaba, the digital economy now accounts for some 30% of China’s gross domestic product, according to a report published last year by the Ministry of Industry, Information and Technology.

That also explains why the honchos of China’s fastest-growing tech firms have become the two richest men in Asia.

Read: Ma Huateng rules rich list, but ‘superman’ looks vulnerable