Tencent of China picks Singapore as Asia hub


In this Aug 22, 2016 photo, a pedestrian walks past Tencent Holdings Ltd's new headquarters that's under construction in Shenzhen. (QILAI SHEN / BLOOMBERG)

Sept 15 - Tencent Holdings Ltd. has picked Singapore as its beachhead for Asia, joining rivals Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and ByteDance Ltd. in the race to build up their presence closer to home.

Management at China’s largest social media and gaming company had been discussing Singapore as a potential regional hub and geopolitical tensions accelerated its plans, according to people familiar with the matter. Tencent has been considering the shift of some business operations - including international game publishing - out of its home country, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations.

China’s tech behemoths are increasingly turning to Southeast Asia in the face of growing hostility from the US and other major markets, setting up the region - with its 650 million increasingly smartphone-savvy population - as a key battleground. US President Donald Trump has banned US entities from dealing with Tencent’s super-app WeChat from Sept 20, while the company’s hit games PUBG Mobile and Arena of Valor are banned in India.

Tencent said in a statement that it will open a new office in Singapore to “support our growing business in Southeast Asia and beyond, ” in addition to current ones in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. It’s recruiting for various positions including tech and business development, the company said, without offering details. Tencent currently has dozens of job openings in Singapore for businesses including cross-border commerce, cloud computing and esports, according to its hiring site.

Singapore in particular is attracting attention as a regional base for both Western and Chinese corporations because of its advanced financial and legal system.

TikTok’s owner ByteDance is planning to spend several billion dollars and add hundreds of jobs in Singapore over the next three years, Bloomberg News reported last week. It has also applied for a digital-bank license from the city-state’s central bank, alongside Alibaba-backed Ant Group and Tencent-backed Sea Ltd.

Alibaba has splashed out US$4 billion to take full control of Singapore-based regional e-commerce platform Lazada, which aims to serve 300 million people in Southeast Asia by 2030. In May, Alibaba struck a deal to buy half of Singapore’s AXA Tower, valued at around US$1.2 billion, underscoring its ambition to expand in the market. China’s largest corporation is in talks to invest US$3 billion into Singapore-based ride-hailing giant Grab Holdings Inc., Bloomberg News reported on Monday.

Tencent thus far has had a smaller footprint in Southeast Asia. The online entertainment juggernaut is largely run from its Shenzhen headquarters, though some global products in areas like music and video streaming operate in Hong Kong, where President Martin Lau is based. The company says it stores some user data in Singapore.

In recent years, Tencent has ratcheted up efforts to expand globally as the Chinese market saturates and stricter regulatory controls on gaming slow down domestic growth. Tapping into popular franchises from investees like Activision Blizzard Inc. and turning them into mobile hits marked its biggest global successes so far. In 2019’s final quarter, international titles like Call of Duty Mobile and PUBG Mobile accounted for 23 percent of Tencent’s US$17 billion gaming empire, according to the company.

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