Throughout history, there is no time like now that we have seen the Chinese companies grow rapidly and take over other companies worldwide. Southeast Asian (SEA) region has also been hit by this wave. Many Chinese firms from various sectors in upstream and downstream industries have penetrated the region’s market; this includes e-commerce, Fintech, logistic, content, transportation, and retail business.
In this article, we will trace the history of the Chinese tech giants, who have already settled their foothold in Southeast Asia’s online landscape.
This most famous e-commerce giant from China is co-founded by Jack Ma, a prominent business figure. Jack Ma is well-known for his image in tightening the relationship with many Governments. In Thailand, he signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the 11-billion-baht investment projects in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). In Malaysia, he opened and set up the regional office and distribution hub to support its business.
Alibaba group also acquired and injected a lot of investment in this region such as:
Lazada – this is one of ‘talk of the town’ deals in the e-commerce business. Its former owner, Rocket Internet, is known for its habit to run a high-profit business by ‘expand and sell’ strategy. First, it will find the potential firms to target, then boost growth and expand them to other countries. Finally, when it reaches an advantage in economy of scale, it will sell them to the big investors who would like to penetrate the market in this region. For Lazada case, the players who would like to enter this market would either be the Western firms or those from China. Finally, it was the latter who won the bet. Alibaba Group acquired Lazada. Meanwhile, Lazada also bought Redmart, the Singaporean grocery shopping and delivery service, covering the consumers’ shopping experience in every area.
Tokopedia – is the giant online marketplace from Indonesia. Earlier, there was a rumor that it would be acquired by JD. However, in the end, it is Alibaba who bought and injected the Series-F funding to the company. Tokopedia was established in 2009 and is the biggest online marketplace for retailers and other mega brands in Indonesia. In an early stage, it attracted capital injections from global venture capitals including East Ventures, CyberAgent Ventures and Beenos Partners. In 2014, the company received a US$100 million investment from Sequoia Capital and SoftBank Internet & Media Inc (SIMI). Today, Tokopedia is considered a unicorn company in the Information Technology sector. There are a lot of shops selling products on its platform.
Ascend Money – is a Fintech firm backed by Thai conglomerate CP Group. It also received the funding support from Ant Financial, an affiliate company of Alibaba Group. Ascend money facilitated TrueMoney payment platform through its e-wallet app. This strategic partnership enables Alibaba to enter in Thai market very fast since CP group owns many businesses in the country such as retail, telecom, Fintech. The deal was one of the biggest news at that time because there was a public concern that this collaboration could lead to a monopoly.
Mynt - is a Fintech firm under Globe Telecom, telecommunications services provider in the Philippines. Ant Financial, Alibaba's Fintech affiliate, invests in this company. The investment strategy in the Philippines was quite similar to its investment strategy in Thailand. Globe Telecom also has interesting shareholders like SingTel (common shares of 21.51%), Ayala Corporation – who is one of the biggest conglomerates in the country (common shares of 13.85%) and Asiacom, the major shareholder (common shares of 54.43%).
Hellopay – is a payment platform from Singapore. Ant Financial does not only invest in this company but also took over the business and locally rebranded it to Alipay Singapore. It becomes an attached payment platform for Lazada.
CompareAsiaGroup – is an online financial comparison portal which offers the service for various products from insurance to credit cards and personal loans. The firm has its presence in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand (the parent company of MoneyGuru.co.th). It is one of the companies that Alibaba Group invested through Alibaba Fund.
Getlinks – is a Thailand-based startup backed by Alibaba Fund. Getlinks is different from the above-mentioned businesses which are mainly focused on e-commerce and Fintech areas. Getlinks’ core business is focused on recruitment and positioned itself as a marketplace for talent network.
Tencent is the owner of powerful online platforms like WeChat, a popular social mobile application that is used by millions of Chinese. It is founded by Pony Ma who is ranked as the country's richest citizen by his estimated net valuable assets. However, for many people, he is not as much well-known as Jack Ma.
Sanook – is an online web portal that has a long history in Thailand and founded by Poramate Minsiri. It used to be operated under a parent company called MWEB. Later on, Sanook was acquired by Tencent. Today Tencent Thailand is running the content business in many platforms such as JOOX, VOOV, Tencent Social Ads, Tencent Cloud, Tencent Games, Topspace and Noozup.
Gojek – is a giant unicorn from Indonesia and a competitor of Grab. It started out as a motorcycle-taxi booking operator and then expanded to other business segments such as Gopay, GoFood and GoMart. The firm is also working on its international expansion across Southeast Asia such as Vietnam, Thailand (under the established local brand ‘Get’) and Singapore. Go-Jek received Series E funding from Tencent.
SEA – is an internet platform company, originally based in Singapore. The SEA group issued its IPO in the U.S. and owns several well-known businesses such as Garena –an online platform for gamers (who developed the famous game like ROV), Shopee – an e-commerce platform, and Airpay – an e-wallet payment system. Tencent is the major shareholder of the company.
Ookbee – is a Thailand-based digital content platform and a well-known startup. It has a joint venture with Tencent under ‘Ookbee U’ brand. Ookbee U runs user-generated content like Ookbee Comics, Fungjai, Storylog and Fictionlog.
Tencent does not spend a lot of investment in the e-commerce business in Southeast Asia but mainly supports the Content business. The reason behind this business strategy is because of JD, another giant Chinese tech that we will discuss next.
The name of this giant Chinese tech has been recognized in Thailand for a while. The firm also has Tencent as its major shareholder, together with Wallmart, the global mega-retailer. Therefore, its business expansion in Southeast Asia is the expansion of Tencent. JD also invests in Gojek to leverage its logistics operation to deliver the products and support other businesses under its umbrella.
JD’s major deals in Thailand are:
Central Group – is partnering with JD to establish JD central which is registered under the name JD.co.th. The company also plans to launch Central JD Fintech next year.
Not only in Thailand that JD has penetrated the market, but it also enters the lucrative big market like Indonesia by launching the unmanned flagship store in the country.
Pomelo – is founded in 2014 and based in Thailand. The firm has the vision to become a leader in the online fashion industry in Southeast Asia. The firm attracted the Series B funding worth US$19 million from JD. It is likely that Pomelo will develop the strategy to partner with Central.
Many Thai consumers are not familiar with the company’s name; however, this is the firm that beat Uber out of the Chinese market. Didi is a mobile transportation platform and backed by both Tencent and Alibaba. Didi and the investors from these two giant techs envisioned that it is not only another ride-hailing apps but can be integrated with other businesses in the realm.
If Didi is the dominant mobile transportation player in the Chinese market, Grab is another game changer who beat Uber in the Southeast Asian market.
With that being said, we can see how complex the investment plan Tencent has. It has both direct and indirect investment strategy. Tencent invests in Gojek, and at the same time, provides funding to Didi. The latter invests in Grab who is the direct competitor of Gojek.
The name of this company might not be very well recognized by Thai consumers. However, Ping An is a big insurance company and owns Lufax, a famous Peer to Peer Lending service which is now branching out its business to Wealth Management Platform. It expands the business to overseas starting from Singapore. The firm targets Chinese investors who can invest from US$5,000 to US$1 million. Recently, Ping An provided the second funding to Grab worth US$2 billion (funding round led by Toyota). This investment allows Ping An Healthcare and Technology Company to partner with Grab to co-investment in online healthcare service in Southeast Asia.
China’s growing role in the region is more than we can imagine. Even though it has a long history in being one of the dominant players in the market, the degree of its influence is not as extremely high as in today. With the help from the technology, all transactions are recorded. The consumer behavior’s data will be analyzed and interpreted as information for the company to develop the products and services that meet the consumers’ demand. Direct competition is almost impossible. This becomes a challenge for Thai entrepreneurs to find their battleground and the niche market that they can win and survive in this red ocean.