Two of the most well known faces of China’s technology boom, Tencent Holdings’ chairman Pony Ma Huateng and Alibaba Group Holding’s Jack Ma, became the first Chinese to enter the top 20 richest people in the world, with a combined wealth of US$84.3 billion – almost the size of the Turkish economy.
As in previous years, the 32nd Forbes annual billionaires list was dominated by US tycoons, who made up 13 out of the world’s 20 richest people. But with China creating the most new billionaires last year, 89 compared to the US’ 18, the gap between the two countries is closing. While the US had the most number of people with wealth in the billions, 585, Greater China – mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan – had 476.
The popularity of Tencent’s online games and its WeChat messaging and online payment app helped its share price double in the last year, propelling Pony Ma into the top 20 as well as to the title of the wealthiest man in Asia with US$45.3 billion.
The Hong Kong-listed company also has stakes in Tesla, Snapchat parent Snap and music-streaming service Spotify. It had a market capitalisation equal to US$517 billion on Monday, higher than Facebook's valuation of US$514 billion at the close of trading in the United States on Friday.
Alibaba’s Jack Ma, 53, with net worth of US$39 billion, ranked the third wealthiest person in Asia and the 20th worldwide, thanks to a 76 per cent rise in Alibaba’s share price in the past year as the e-commerce giants’ revenues rose. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.
Asia’s wealthiest woman was also from China. Property developer Country Garden Holdings’ vice-chairwoman Yang Huiyan, 36, was the 43rd richest person worldwide. She owns 57 per cent of Country Garden, a stake transferred to her in 2007 by her father Yeung Kwok Keung, who co-founded the company.
Also on the list was Zhou Qunfei, founder of touch screen maker Lens Technology, whose clients include Apple and Samsung. A former migrant worker who began her business career making watch parts in an apartment in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, her wealth was put at US$7.8 billion.
Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, chairman of conglomerate Cheung Kong Holdings, ranked the fourth richest man in Asia and 23rd worldwide with wealth of US$34 billion.
A record 2,208 billionaires were on the Forbes list this year, with a collective net worth of US$9.1 trillion, up from US$7.7 trillion in 2017.
E-commerce giant Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, 54, was the world’s wealthiest person, with US$112 billion, overtaking Bill Gates, 62, the co-founder of software company Microsoft with US$90 billion, while Warren Buffett, the 87-year-old chief executive of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, ranked third with US$84 billion.