ByteDance Ltd (字節跳動), the Chinese owner of video-sharing app TikTok, is planning to make Singapore its beachhead for the rest of Asia as part of its global expansion, people familiar with the matter said.
The Beijing-based company is looking to spend several billion US dollars and add hundreds of jobs over the next three years in the city-state, where it has applied for a license to operate a digital bank, said the people, who asked not to be identified because of confidentiality.
The investment would come at a crucial time as the technology firm is forced to sell TikTok operations in the US under pressure by US President Donald Trump.
ByteDance, the world’s most richly valued start-up, is plowing ahead with plans to take its social media services deeper into Asia, after setbacks in India, the UK and the US.
The Internet phenomenon controlled by ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming (張一鳴) has long eyed the 650 million increasingly smartphone-savvy population of Southeast Asia, a region where Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) and Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊) are also making inroads.
The plans for Singapore include the establishment of a data center, the people said, adding that operations are to include TikTok and Lark, an enterprise software business.
ByteDance currently has more than 200 job openings in Singapore, for positions in everything from payments to e-commerce and data privacy, according to its job referral site. The company already has 400 employees working on technology, sales and marketing in the city-state, one of the people said.
Southeast Asia is rapidly evolving into a critical location for China’s largest tech corporations from Alibaba to Tencent in the face of growing hostility from the US and other major developed markets. Singapore is becoming a regional base for both Western and Chinese companies because of its developed financial and legal system, and as Beijing tightens its grip on Hong Kong.
“Singapore is highly attractive to tech firms looking for a hub to address the Southeast Asian markets due to geographic proximity,” Bloomberg intelligence analyst Vey-Sern Ling said. “The workforce is highly educated, tech savvy and multilingual.”
In China, ByteDance also runs the news aggregation app Toutiao (今日頭條), and TikTok’s Chinese twin Douyin (抖音). Collectively, its stable of products have more than 1.5 billion monthly active users. ByteDance is said to have generated more than US$3 billion of net profit on more than US$17 billion of revenue last year.
Asia is a growth area for the company, especially when it is increasingly likely to miss the US government’s deadline for the sale of its TikTok US operations. Trump on Thursday said that he would not extend the Sept. 15 deadline for the deal.
In India, TikTok is among more than a hundred Chinese-made consumer apps that are banned by the government on concerns about security. Softbank Group Corp is exploring gathering a group of bidders for TikTok’s India assets.
ByteDance is also leading a consortium that has applied for a digital-bank license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Other members of that group include a private investment firm owned by a member of the family that founded Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (華僑銀行).
The regulator are to award as many as five such permits to non-banks by December. Ant Group (螞蟻集團) and Tencent-backed Sea Ltd have also applied.
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