It’s still off to an early start for the year 2014, but it seems like there’s already lots to look forward to from a handful of China’s Internet companies that are escalating their efforts in Southeast Asia’s smallest country, Singapore.
An early highlight of the year has been popular Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi — which sold 19 million phones in 2013 and is valued at $10 billion — announcing plans to launch in Singapore. Former Android VP Hugo Barra is leading the company’s global drive, and revealed that the first phone to be released in the country will be Redmi, the company’s lowest-cost smartphone in its range of devices.
Late last year, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba picked Singapore as the first expansion for its Taobao marketplace, and this year it has stepped up marketing efforts in the country — as seen in this mailer I received over Chinese New Year.
Got a Taobao mailer in my letterbox! Sign of pretty aggressive overseas marketing by Alibaba. pic.twitter.com/03IdDYDmF2
— Kaylene Hong (@kaylenehong) February 7, 2014
Tencent, China’s largest Internet firm, is also building awareness for WeChat, its WhatsApp-like messaging service with 270 million active users worldwide — and its efforts in Singapore have been notable. When a WeChat update saw the release of games on the platform worldwide, Tencent chose to hold a launch event in Singapore, where media were invited to get a hands-on of the titles at launch — Craz3 Match, Gunz Dash and 2Day’s Match. This is an indicator of Singapore’s role in WeChat’s global efforts.
What’s more, WeChat was even linked with an IPO in Singapore — though highly speculative, the rumor pointed at Singapore’s strategic importance.
Baidu, China’s largest search company, is also likely to expand its pilot projects in Vietnam, Thailand and other places into fully fledged services soon — and back in 2012 it opened a language technology lab in (yes, again) Singapore to help accelerate its expansion plans, with plans to work on Portuguese in addition to Arabic and Southeast Asian languages such as Thai and Vietnamese.
From the huge Chinese population in their home country to a city of a mere five million — what exactly is it about Singapore that appeals to these Chinese tech firms?
It’s obviously not the market size, but rather the fact that the little red dot is a hub in Southeast Asia — it’s well-placed with flights to its regional surroundings, which means easy access to emerging markets including Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, as well as India.
What’s more, Singapore has a transparent regulatory framework and a friendly business environment, making it easier to wade through the steps for possible investment, setting up offices or even hiring people.
In terms of Internet access, Singapore is a highly-wired nation with a connectivity rate of over 99 percent and a high mobile penetration rate of about 87 percent. All of these factors make it appealing for tech firms to operate in the country, and Chinese companies aren’t any different.
In particular, Chinese tech firms probably also love Singapore because of cultural reasons — the Southeast Asian nation has a population with a majority of Chinese, which means language barriers are of less concern, and in turn doing business may be much more comfortable.
We can expect to see Chinese Internet firms becoming more active in Singapore this year — though whether their initiatives take off or not remains to be seen. After all, having an international outlook means that Singaporeans tend to catch on to US tech trends easily as well. One thing is for sure: Singapore has become a firm favorite of Chinese Internet firms, and is rapidly becoming the first overseas stop in their march for global expansion.