More than just the latest on TikTok (which, alas, we can't ignore)

Asia Tech Review: 28 September 2020

Welcome back,

It’s hard to ignore the mess that is TikTok’s continued US saga, which apparently seems to have now reset itself to the original default: no ban and no deal.

But, hey, there’s a lot more going on. Don’t let the brevity of this email and its succinct links fool you into thinking otherwise.

For starters, Ant Group—nee Ant Financial—has its massive IPO coming soon (I published a story myself), and less covered topics include a new $100M fund in Singapore from veteran investors; how banned Chinese apps are re-entering India using new aliases (think the digital equivalent of fake moustaches and bad toupes); while a Tokyo-based games studio just stepped out from under-the-radar with a $1 billion valuation and impressive founding team credentials.

Until next time,

Jon


China

TikTok got a stay of execution in the US after a judge blocked the Trump administration efforts to ban the app from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store.

What looked like a deal barely a week is once again a mess that’s up in the air.

ByteDance and Oracle can’t agree on a valuation for TikTok USA, according to Reuters. And now the Trump administration is pushing harder still for a ban by arguing that ByteDance is "a mouthpiece" for the Chinese Communist Party. You’ll recall that Trump had given the deal his blessing only to completely change his mind, presumably when he heard/learned/realised that it was actually not a sale at all.

In response, ByteDance has applied for a tech export license in China—a requirement set by the Chinese government—but even if it does get it (unclear) who knows what good that’ll do

WeChat, the other app targeted by the US government, has been relatively quiet during the TikTok rollercoaster. The only update is that automaker Chevron told employees to delete the messaging app

Meanwhile, the US government has imposed sanctions on SMIC, which is China’s biggest chipmaker

GGV is reportedly raising $2B for a new fund targeted at US and China-based investments

Ant is said to have increased its IPO fundraising target to $35B, up from $30B. That would make it a record listing. The valuation is estimated at $250B, by the way. That’s up from an estimated $225B.

The firm also just launched a blockchain-based cross-border trading service. But, Chinese shoppers don’t appear to be all that keen on facial-scan payments, something Ant is pushing

(I wrote about Ant’s disjointed Southeast Asia presence on The Ken today)

Ride-hailing firm Didi has paired up with automaker BYD on EVs

WeWork has sold control of its China business, which has raised $200M from investors 

Tencent led a $65M investment in fitness startup Fiture

The eSIM maker powering Xiaomi’s IoT devices, Showmac Tech, raised $15M

At least five organizations say they won’t help companies audit their supply chains in China’s Xinjiang region, where human-rights activists say a police-state atmosphere and government controls make it too difficult to determine whether factories and farms are relying on forced labor


India

Reliance rolls on: KKR invested $750M in Reliance Retail, General Atlantic and TPG reportedly in talks to put in $1B more each

Flipkart has joined Amazon and Reliance in offering pharma services after landing a partnership with 1MG

Byju’s revealed it has added BlackRock, Sands Capital and Alkeon Capital to its investor list

ShareChat raised $40M but Google, which was rumoured to be keen, didn’t invest… yet at least

Huawei and ZTE have missed out on India’s 5G trials after Airtel, Jio and Vodafone Idea selected Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung and Mavenir for trials

Economic Times reports that banned Chinese apps are returning to India with aliases:

For instance, Snack Video, launched by Tencent-backed Kuaishou, is similar to Kwai, an earlier offering by the Chinese company that was banned in June.

Snack Video, which has already amassed [a[ significant number of Indian users, is also replicating features of the banned popular short-video app Tik-Tok, owned by ByteDance. Similarly, the banned Hago app, which allowed people to create chat rooms with strangers and also play games with them, has been replaced by an app called Ola Party. While the new app does not offer the gaming option, it has imported the sign-in as well as the existing profile, friends and chat rooms from Hago, a review by ET showed.

MPL, a mobile app that lets users game competitively against others, raised $90M—TechCrunch reports its valuation is around $400M pre-money

Related: The FT looks at how online gaming is booming as the new cricket season begins

Xiaomi says it plans to sell phones using vans to reach rural consumers in India. Seems like nice PR. Xiaomi has really focused on physical retail in recent years, both in India and China, after starting out life as an only-online brand focused on flash sales and limited stock.

On the other end of the distribution scale, Apple finally launched its own online store in India

It doesn’t look like India will revoke its ban on PUBG, despite Tencent no longer being the game’s publisher


Southeast Asia

Facebook had a mixed week in Southeast Asia. Thailand initiated legal action against Facebook, Twitter and Google for not complying with requests to remove content. Facebook took down “inauthentic” accounts that it said had tried to interfere with politics in the Philippines

Altara Ventures is a new VC firm in Singapore from a set of veteran investors. It’s already raised half of its target of $100M

In more fund news: Billionaires Peter Thiel and Richard Li have created a SPAC targeting “new economy” technology, financial services and media companies in Southeast Asia

Singapore-based crypto exchange Kucoin got hacked to the tune of $150M in various tokens

Vietnam’s Vingroup is developing electric motorbikes

AirAsia said it may raise money to expand its digital business

Indonesia-based cloud kitchen startup Yummy raised $12M

Singapore-based robo-advisor Syfe raised $18.6M

Tesla is hiring in Singapore for the first time

GoBear is apparently the top emerging startup in Singapore—please forgive the self-indulgence of sharing my own tweet but I really don’t get it


Japan

Tencent is increasing its business with game development studios in Japan in response to US-China tension

On the subject of gaming, Tokyo-based studio Playco is a new unicorn after it raised a $100 million Series A funding round at a valuation “just north of $1 billion.” That’s before it has even released a game and done publicity—its first titles will apparently come before the end of the year. The startup is founded by Zynga co-founder Justin Waldron and Michael Carter, who had started startup Game Closure


Outside of Asia tech

Digital-only newsrooms are in the firing line as Australian news law grinds toward reality

The WSJ profiles Sophie Schmidt, daughter of ex-Google chairman Eric who plans to spend up to $60M on her global publication Rest of World


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