China’s Tencent picks Singapore as Asia hub after India, US bans

Tencent Holdings has picked Singapore as its beachhead for Asia, joining rivals Alibaba Group Holding and ByteDance in the race to build up their presence closer to home after setbacks in the United States and India.

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 South-east 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 South-east Asia and beyond”, in addition to current ones in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. It is 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 e-sports, 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, and as Beijing tightens its grip on the city of Hong Kong.

The city-state of under six million people has been careful not to take sides in the stand-off between the world’s two superpowers, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledging last year to remain “good friends” with both the US and China.

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 licence from the city-state’s central bank, alongside Alibaba-backed Ant Group and Tencent-backed Sea Ltd.

Alibaba has splashed out US$4 billion (S$5.46 billion) to take full control of Singapore-based regional e-commerce platform Lazada, which aims to serve 300 million people in South-east Asia by 2030.