China’s tech crackdown propels investors, entrepreneurs to shift sights to SE Asia

DealStreetAsia

After Beijing’s tightened regulatory control over its tech sector wiped out billions of dollars in value from internet giants, investors and entrepreneurs are increasingly shifting sights to overseas opportunities to diversify risks, with Southeast Asia among their top options.

China’s regulatory crackdown on its tech sector, which has by far erased about $1.5 trillion of value from the country’s tech stocks, started in November 2020 when the regulators pulled the plug on the initial public offering (IPO) of Jack Ma’s fintech juggernaut Ant Group. The suspension of Ant’s $34.5-billion IPO was followed by a slew of new legislations over the past months, ranging from anti-monopoly rules to user data security and protection laws, that have put high-profile tech companies under investigation and big-ticket fines.

“There is a diversion of capital that would have otherwise gone into China now interested in going elsewhere… with Singapore and SE Asia at the top of their minds,” said James Tan during the panel discussion. “… I think many of these Chinese individuals who are coming over [to SE Asia] will become a natural bridge to raising Chinese capital.

Tan, who co-founded VC firm Quest Ventures to invest in the digital economy in Asia, cited Sea Limited, Southeast Asia’s most valuable firm with Tencent among its top backers, as an example. The rise of Sea Group has turned its China-born co-founder and CEO Forrest Li into Singapore’s richest person with an estimated net worth of $19.8 billion as of August, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The fundraising model can also be seen in regional champions such as logistics startup Flash Group, which was co-founded by ex-Alibaba executive Di Weijie. Flash became Thailand’s first unicorn in June with a valuation of over $1 billion after raising $150 million from investors including China’s Buer Capital, and Alibaba’s eWTP Capital.

“There are still plenty of opportunities in China. It’s just that… there are opportunities elsewhere [that] really present themselves better,” said Tan, who expects Beijing’s heightened scrutiny over its tech sector to last for another one to two years.

“If you don’t want to deal with the regulatory pressure in China, you can come to SE Asia,” he said. “There are regulations [across the region], but at least they are not interfering in the [tech] space.”

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