World War III is coming, but it will be a good thing, according to one of Asia's richest men.
Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, said Tuesday that the Internet and its various platforms will usher in a wave of global conflict. It will not, however, pit countries against each other, but instead will see the likes of China and the U.S. teaming up to defeat societal ills.
"The third world war is going to happen, and this war is not between nations," Ma said during a speech hosted by the Economic Club of New York. "In this war we work together against the disease, the poverty, the climate change—and I believe this is our future."
Ma said working to incite such a conflict is his life's passion, and Alibaba's mission of globalizing e-commerce can help.
"It's not about the money, it's about the dreams," he said of the Internet's future.
Alibaba, the massive Chinese e-commerce firm, is working to expand its international presence, and Ma is touring the U.S. this week to pitch his platform to American businesses. Although some have suggested it could potentially bring its marketplace to the U.S. as a direct competitor to the likes of Amazon, others remain skeptical that such a move could work.
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Ma, however, emphasized that his company is not analogous to Jeff Bezos' Internet giant.
"From the American point of view, Amazon probably is the only business model for e-commerce, but no, we are different," he said, explaining that Alibaba does not buy, sell or even deliver products—nor does it have any inventory or warehouses.
Instead, Ma pitched Alibaba as a way for small businesses to find success in the global digital marketplace, and he called for American firms to get involved.
"We show great respect for eBay and Amazon, but I think the opportunity and the strategy for us is helping small business in America go to China, sell their products in China," he said, adding that the Chinese middle class is already about the size of the American population, and it continues to grow.
Ma said Alibaba's new tactic will present just as much of an opportunity for Americans looking to expand their customer bases as it does for his own attempts at building a global empire.
"China has been focused on exporting for the past 20 years, and I think in the next 10-20 years China should be focusing on importing. China should learn to buy, China should spend the money, China should buy a lot of its things globally," he said. "And I think that American small business, American-branded products, should use the Internet and go to China."
Ma focused squarely on e-commerce during his Tuesday address, but his company has other important irons in the fire. Alibaba struck a number of deals to bring its cloud computing operations to the world—a challenge to not only Amazon, but also Google and Microsoft.
The company—which posted strong earnings in May—is also looking for other ways to profit from the U.S. market, with reports suggesting the firm invested in hot startup Snapchat, and Ma's well-documented Hollywood ambitions.
Reports earlier this year indicated that Ma lost his title as China's richest man, as his estimated fortune of $24.5 billion lost out to an energy magnate. But that man, Li Hejun, lost as much as $15 billion last month—so Ma may well be his country's richest again.
Either way, the title likely means little to Ma: He told CNBC in November that he dislikes the super rich status that Alibaba's historic $25 billion IPO afforded him.
"People say, 'Well Jack, rich people is good.' Yeah it is good, but not the richest man in China. It's a great pain because when you're (the) richest person in the world, everybody (is) surrounding you for money," he said at the time. "Today when I walk on the street, people look at you in a different—I want people to see this is entrepreneur, this is a guy who is having fun of himself, and I want to be myself."
In fact, Ma said Tuesday that in "another life" he would have chosen to keep his company private, as his life has become "much worse" since that record-breaking offering.