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Political tensions shape apps, chips, telecom tech, investment and more
Asia Tech Review: 30 November 2020
Political tensions are increasingly powering moves across Asia’s technology industry. That’s abundantly clear from this week’s newsletter.
Expect to see a response from a New York Times story last week which highlighted the role Intel and Nvidia chips play in enabling China’s state surveillance. India is banning Chinese apps for the third time. Apple is (reportedly) getting its main supplier to move chunks of manufacturing out of China. All the while Chinese chip and component makers are beefing up their capabilities to provide technology without the need for US firms. Even India is now set to commercialise its own technology for telecom.
That’s the world we live in today. While this week’s newsletter doesn’t contain the analysis, it plots the dots so you can at least develop your own patterns.
See you next time and take care,
A New York Times report found that chips from Intel and Nvidia are used to power the super computers for China’s surveillance of citizens including Muslims. While the surveillance is well documented, neither US firm was aware that its technology was being used for them
Remember the feud between the US government and TikTok? Well, the outgoing Trump administration is still pushing the Chinese firm to divest its US business. ByteDance was given a further 7-day extension last week, so that’s December 4. You’d imagine ByteDance will try to drag this out until Biden arrives as President in the hope that there’s a chance of strategy
Jack Ma’s blunt comments may have upset the Chinese government sufficiently for it to put the brakes on Ant Group’s IPO, but now the firm is playing a safer game. Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang called new measures put in place to regulate fintech firms like Ant “necessary”
Alibaba and Tencent are said to have shelved plans to buy into streaming service iQiyi due to concern over the price and potential regulatory issues since both have rival services. ByteDance is also said to have explored a potential acquisition of iQiyi, which is valued at around $16B
Chinese chip-makers are pushing hard to poach talent from rivals to reduce the country’s reliance on US companies for semiconductors. Elsewhere, the country’s LCD makers are pushing to increase their capacity to serve demand from device makers locally.
An Airbnb executive resigned last year after China requested the company to share more data
China added regulations for live-streaming that require hosts and those sending gifts to provide their real names, while teenagers will no longer be allowed to spend money on live-streaming apps
Two apps developed by Baidu leaked “sensitive” user data that potentially left millions of users open to surveillance or cybercrime, according to researchers
Full Truck Alliance, an Uber for trucks-like service, confirmed it raised $1.7B from Tencent, SoftBank and others ahead of a planned IPO. Its valuation passed $12B
The Indian government banned a further 43 Chinese apps, including Aliexpress, in what is its third crackdown on apps from China. Unsurprisingly, this spree of bans has led many Chinese firms to write off India as a market for now, Indonesia is among the new priorities instead
Google is reportedly in talks to buy pan-India social app ShareChat for over $1B—it’s a big rumour but few details are available at this point
India is developing commercialisable mobile base station technology for the first time. The breakthrough covers 5G and more, and it would allow the price of the technology to drop for Indian firms whilst also presenting opportunity to build technology for other markets too
Cars24 became India’s latest unicorn—and first from the used car space—after it landed a $200M round led by DST Global
PE firms BlackRock and T. Rowe are leading a new $200M round for Byju’s at at a slightly higher valuation of $12B, it’s expected to close this week
The firm is also controversially suing a critic of Whitehat Jr service who has highlights its aggressive marketing and concerns around the quality of course
Another education-focused startup, Unacademy, meanwhile is valued at $2B after raising $75M-$100M in a round led by Tiger Global
Payment services startup Cashfree raised $35.3M from UK-based Apis Partners and existing investors Y Combinator and Smilegate Investments. That takes it to $42 million to date
Digital insurance firm Policy Bazaar is reportedly raising new funding of $50M-$100M at a valuation of $2B
Sequoia announced the fourth batch of companies in its Surge early stage program
Facebook has seen some rare success with hate speech prevention in Southeast Asia after changing its rules in Myanmar around the recent election
But it’s back to regular scheduling in Vietnam where the government has threatened Facebook with action, including a shutdown, if it doesn’t agree to censor more content. Facebook had previously complied with requests in April after having its service throttled:
Facebook complied with a government request in April to significantly increase its censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users, but Vietnam asked the company again in August to step up its restrictions of critical posts, the official said.
“We made an agreement in April. Facebook has upheld our end of the agreement, and we expected the government of Vietnam to do the same,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the subject.
“They have come back to us and sought to get us to increase the volume of content that we’re restricting in Vietnam. We’ve told them no. That request came with some threats about what might happen if we didn’t.”
The Thai state’s efforts to create buzz in response to pro-democracy campaigns isn’t going so well after Twitter suspended a royalist account linked to influence campaign
Back to Vietnam and Apple supplier Foxconn is reportedly moving some iPad and MacBook assembly to Vietnam from China at the request of Apple. Bloomberg recently wrote that an increase in Apple manufacturing has signaled a boom for rural parts of the country
Indonesia said that the US will invest $2B into its planned sovereign wealth fund
Dyson may open an advanced manufacturing hub in Singapore as part of a $3.7B strategy that will include investments in the UK and the Philippines
Despite Ant’s collapsed IPO, Singapore still plans to award digital bank licenses before the end of 2020
Finally, notable stories we’ve published on Southeast Asia The Ken include:
More than 30 major Japanese firms, including banks, brokerages, telecom firms and retailers, will start an experiment to use a digital currency next year
Line is building up its local R&D and product focus in key expansion markets Taiwan and Thailand
Coupang has drawn praise for developing an incredible delivery network that genuinely rivals Amazon, however Covid-19 has raised concern at how it treats its works. This Rest of World story suggests that delivery and factory workers may be overworked and inadequately protected from the pandemic
Other parts of Asia
Facebook, Twitter and other global tech companies have threatened to pull out of Pakistan after the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan granted enhanced powers to government media regulators Wednesday
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