Top Chinese tech players make a splash in Singapore
Published: Sep 16, 2020 10:23 PM

A rainbow appears in the sky above Singapore's Marina Bay on Aug. 24, 2020. (Photo by Then Chih Wey/Xinhua)

As a video clip featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hunting down Chinese apps goes viral on Indian social media, many Chinese internet firms are expanding their footprints in Singapore, a global financial hub in Southeast Asia. 

Chinese experts said that some of those opportunities used to be open for India, due to its large user base for mobile apps, but New Delhi's discriminative policy turned Chinese companies away from India.

Bloomberg reported that after facing bans in India, Chinese internet giant Tencent will open a new office in Singapore to be its regional hub. It is reported that Tencent will house its international game publishing business there.The moves by Tencent followed those of Alibaba Group Holding and ByteDance.

Alibaba, which owns Singapore-based e-commerce firm Lazada, bought a 50-percent stake in a Singapore office tower at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in May. 

ByteDance, whose TikTok app is now banned in India, is beefing up recruiting efforts in Singapore and looking to spend several billion dollars there.These announcements come as Singapore gains fresh appeal as a base for Chinese corporate operations.

Industry observers said these expansion programs come at a loss to India, considering how much Chinese companies have invested in the country's technology sector in recent years — and the fact that India was not long ago considered by Chinese tech investors as the next 1 billion-consumer market.

"Mobile apps that offer entertainment and information services require large local teams and large offices. These vanished with India's sweeping ban on Chinese mobile apps," Richard Ma, an internet industry practitioner who just returned from working in India last year, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Singapore's open and inclusive attitude toward foreign investment, plus its first-rate business environment, is also in stark contrast with India, Ma said.

Chinese investors have a significant presence among Indian start-ups, putting $6 billion into them in the past two years, and they have large stakes in more than 18 unicorns, industry analysts said.

However, India lost its appeal after the Indian government targeted Chinese companies as a way to step up hostilities against China over border disputes. 

Alibaba closed its operations for the UC Browser and laid off local employees in July after India banned hundreds of Chinese apps.

"These moves are mainly driven at breaking the encirclement of Chinese technology firms by the US, but an equally important goal is seeking expansion in the fast-growing digital economy and fintech in Southeast Asia," Huang Bin, head of the Chinese department at the Bangkok-based Kasikorn Research Center, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

For instance, Thailand's digital economy and fintech sectors are just taking off, in part facilitated by the pandemic which boosted demand for food delivery, online entertainment and electronic wallets. These trends changed local spending patterns for good, Huang said.

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