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The Facebook ban that never was in Cambodia
Global downturn hits Vietnam, China's AI race and *that* dumb Shein influencer tour
This week’s focus is on social media, censorship, AI (of course) and Shein’s ridiculous influencer tour.
Part of me is still surprised that freebie tours still exist, particularly when the top influencers make so much money. Sadly, few people will turn down a chance to get something for free, I guess—money does talk—but the fact that the Shein junket was so brazenly about propaganda is the real shocker here.
Elswhere, the Byju’s crisis continues to rage on, Temasek is catching heat about the closure of a biotech firm it backed and Japan landed a multi-billion dollar chipmaking deal.
See you again next week,
News in focus
The Facebook ban that never was in Cambodia
Facebook has transformed politics across the world, especially in Asia where we’ve seen concerning cases in the Philippines, Myanmar, India and elsewhere. So when you hear of a politician actively leaving the platform (and deleting their page, to boot) you know things have gotten weird. That’s par for the course in Cambodia where Hun Sen—the country’s leader for nearly 40 years—is known for intimidating critics, silencing media and other nefarious activities. Now, he’s left Facebook altogether and threatened to boot parent firm Meta out, too.
The episode began with a live-streamed video posted to his page that allegedly incited violence against his critics. Seen by some 700,000 users. Facebook’s content board stepped in to recommend a six month ban on his pages on Facebook and Instagram, after which things escalated.
Hun Sen threatened to ban Facebook from the country, and then deleted his page (which had 14M followers—Cambodia’s population is ~17M) and moved his primary communications to Telegram. Telegram is apparently a better channel to reach people (!), while 70-year-old Hun Sen said he plans to open a TikTok channel to reach younger users. He later backtracked on plans to ban Facebook—realising, you’d imagine, that people would be up in arms—but the entire charade raised questions.
Is it Facebook’s place to censor a national leader—regardless of what we might think about Hun Sen and his legitimacy, it sets a dangerous precedent. And are social media services an essential right for a population?
Global tech downturn hits Vietnam hard
Rest of World looks at Vietnam’s struggle to maintain the boost it saw with manufacturing amid a global tech downturn
Vietnam was a hotbed of electronics production last year, as companies like Samsung hired thousands of workers for their factories. But with appetite for gadgets now cooling, those factories have slowed activity.
Around 45,000 electronics workers are now out of jobs, and those still employed are grappling with slashed hours and reduced pay. Experts don’t see a quick recovery.
There was good news this week as Foxconn pledged to invest $250M in Vietnam to make parts for EVs and telecom link
Billionaires and bureaucrats mobilise China for AI race with US
The Sino-US tech war has mobilised its startup ecosystem, completed with veteran founders including Wang Xiaochuan, who are moving at break-neck speed as Bloomberg writes:
Billionaire entrepreneurs, mid-level engineers and veterans of foreign firms alike now harbor a remarkably consistent ambition: to outdo China's geopolitical rival in a technology that may determine the global power stakes. Among them is internet mogul Wang Xiaochuan, who entered the field after OpenAI’s ChatGPT debuted to a social media firestorm in November. He joins the ranks of Chinese scientists, programmers and financiers — including former employees of ByteDance Ltd., e-commerce platform JD.com Inc. and Google — expected to propel some $15 billion of spending on AI technology this year.
For Wang, who founded the search engine Sogou that Tencent Holdings Ltd. bought out in a $3.5 billion deal less than two years ago, the opportunity came fast. By April, the computer science graduate had already set up his own startup and secured $50 million in seed capital. He reached out to former subordinates at Sogou, many of whom he convinced to come on board. By June, his firm had launched an open-source large language model and it’s already in use by researchers at China’s two most prominent universities.
Shein files for IPO after botched influencer tour
Reuters reported that Shein completed paperwork to file for a US IPO last week. The company denied the report, which had claimed a listing will come before the end of the year. Still, though, it has been clear for some time that an IPO is the ultimate goal—as is the case with ByteDance—and that was made a lot clearer after Shein invited a collection of US-based social media influencers to ‘tour’ its facilities in China as part of a two-week freebie trip.
If you haven’t seen the videos, I won’t be able to adequately explain the level of pain and awkwardness you’ll get from watching them. But you can imagine. A collection of self-righteous individuals going on a very stage managed trip around an immaculate looking factory that’s full of smiles. There are lots of comments about ‘needing to come to see for myself’ and ‘independent fact gathering’ etc etc.
You don’t need to have been on a company-arranged tour to realise this is a PR exercise and not representative of the day-to-day. That’s not to say Shein is hiding appalling working conditions or other horrors, per se, but these people were clearly seeing its best side—so you can imagine the backlash that they rightly faced.
While influencer trips have ramped up on TikTok and Instagram, “I really don’t know of any other situation where there was an overt agenda like the Shein example,” said Mae Karwowski, founder of Obviously, an influencer marketing agency. “It required such a suspension of disbelief and clearly came across as a sort of propaganda.”
The US is reportedly considering new restrictions on exports of AI chips to China—the Commerce Department could move as soon as early next month to stop the shipments of chips made by Nvidia and others without first obtaining a licence link
The US and Netherlands will further restrict sales of chipmaking equipment this summer, part of the countries' ongoing effort to prevent their technology from being used to strengthen China's military link
Tencent’s WeChat messaging app is collecting information of mini programs (apps that run inside WeChat), according to analysis from privacy group Citizen Lab link
Tiktok is going after rivals Temu, Shein and even Amazon in the US by pitching itself as a cost-free marketplace with Chinese manufacturers and exporters targeting US consumers—it is offering free listings, shipping, zero commissions and even warehousing link
Coming soon: TikTok book publishing link
Baidu claims Ernie Bot, its ChatGPT-style service released in public beta 3 months ago, has outperformed OpenAI’s product on several Chinese-language capabilities link
Self-driving truck developer TuSimple—which is in the process of being delisted from the Nasdaq—says it may sell US business to turn its attention to Asia link
Tencent and Ant Group have revived efforts to accept foreign credit cards to allow foreign visitors to China to use their digital payment platforms link
Nigerian officials raise concerns as Chinese-owned super apps PalmPay and OPay gain popularity and Huawei dominates installation of 5G equipment in the country link 🔒
TSMC will send hundreds more workers to speed up construction of its US plant link
TSMC confirmed it experienced a data breach after it was listed as a victim by the LockBit ransomware gang link
Byju’s is in advanced talks with prospective new shareholders for a $1B fundraising round as it aims to see off attempts by some investors to clip founder Byju Raveendran’s control over the company link
Prosus, the largest non-founder shareholder in Byju’s, has drastically slashed the worth of its stake in the edtech giant, implying a starkly diminished valuation of $5.1 billion to the Indian startup. link
Indian startups raise $5.5B in first six months of 2023, that’s down 72% YoY link
Foxconn is reportedly contacting large Indian businesses in search of more partnerships to advance its plans to ramp up semiconductor manufacturing ambitions in the country—its one-year-old JV with Vedanta Group may be on the rocks due to differences link 🔒
Alphabet is making progress on a “larger-scale deployment” of new laser technology to deliver internet in remote areas of India in collaboration with Bharti Airtel link
Google is launching an accelerator programme for Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC), the Indian government-backed interoperable commerce network link
Xiaomi India will reorganise its operations to bring overall headcount below 1,000 link
Tessa Therapeutics, an 11-year-old Singapore-based startup that raised $400M from investors including Temasek, is closing down after reportedly failing to raise funding link
Indonesia-based supply chain startup Baskit raised $3.3M link
Singapore’s MAS set out framework for ‘responsible’ digital asset ecosystem link
Singapore-based Brilliant Labs raised $3M for its an open-source, pocket-sized AR lens—called Monocle—which retails for $349 link
Vietnam told social platforms to use AI to find and remove "toxic" content automatically, according to state media link
Japan Investment Corp, Japan government-backed fund, will buy chip materials maker JSR in a surprise $6.4B deal to boost the country’s chip industry link
Japan’s new AI rules has been criticised for favouring copycats over artists link
Nikkei Asia looks at how K-pop has helped drive Korean investment in the US, as South Korean FDI jumped by more than 70% since BTS' 2016 breakthrough in America link
South Korean lawmakers passed a crypto bill for imposing liability for damages and enforcing penalties in cases of unfair trading of virtual assets link
The FT profiles Choi Jinseog, the South Korean ‘master of chips’ who is accused of sharing secrets with China link
Seoul-based Levit, which runs shopping app Alwayz, raised a $46M led by DST Global Partners link
Rest of Asia
Pakistan’s gig workers still feel the pain one year after the implosion of Airlift’s implosion, a three-year-old instant grocery delivery startup that had raised over $100M link
YouTube is cracking down on North Korean creators who present the regime’s ‘likeable’ face link
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