/Asia’s commercialisation of space gathers pace

Asia’s commercialisation of space gathers pace

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Space tech is one of the big themes in a scoop-studded newsletter this week. Also fascinating is the titanic ride-hailing battle between Uber and Ola in India – and the troubles afflicting China’s ride hailing leader, Didi Chuxing. Take a look too at Klook, a start-up to watch.

The Big Story – Exclusive

Cue the Star Wars clichés. Asia’s commercialisation of space is gathering pace, with two companies planning key moves. One scoop in the FT reveals that Astroscale, a Japanese start-up on a mission to clean up space debris, is set to raise funds. Another scoop in the Nikkei Asian Review shows that the firm behind China’s space missions is preparing to float its civilian satellite operator in June.

Key Implications: The two steps are part of a much bigger picture. The Space Foundation, which tracks the global industry, forecasts that the size of the international space industry is set to almost double from roughly $380bn this year to $720bn by 2030. Much of the growth will come from launching satellites – which is where Astroscale comes in.

Upshot: Space is filling up with junk, with some pieces hurtling around at around 40,000km per hour and smashing satellites. Thus without technology to hoover space clean, the entire space industry could be jeopardised. Yoda, perhaps, would have said: “Do, Or do not. There is no try.”

Mercedes’ top 10

A roundup of the week’s best tech stories from the FT’s Asia tech reporter Mercedes Ruehl.

  1. scoop in the FT reports Microsoft worked with a Chinese military university on artificial intelligence research that could be used for surveillance.

  2. The company behind China’s space missions is set to float its civilian satellites arm on the Shanghai stock exchange in June, according to a scoop by the Nikkei Asian Review.

  3. Are the Alibaba bears going into hibernation? It is the world’s most shorted stock, but in the past week the Chinese technology group has enjoyed a reprieve, with a drop in the number of shares short sold.

  4. Last week we wrote about how South Korea’s telecom companies claimed to have launched the world’s first commercial 5G network. What’s the verdict? It is “fast but patchy”, according to one tester. The US, for its part, calls the launch a PR stunt.

  5. US private equity firm KKR is looking beyond its traditional targets of big corporations to tech start-ups in the region, per this exclusive interview from Nikkei.

  6. Didi Chuxing, China’s leading ride-hailing app, is reaping the whirlwind from a reckless overexpansion. Exclusive FT research helps show why Didi may struggle to get its groove back.

  7. While not solely about Asia, the FT’s Global Tech Correspondent Tim Bradshaw looks at how Big Tech has started taking video games very seriously.

  8. How did a private Chinese company become the kingpin of one of the world’s key technologies? Foreign Policy’s deep dive on Huawei and its 5G capabilities is worth reading.

  9. FT Beijing correspondent Yuan Yang discovered the downside of working for Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com. The company’s poor treatment of workersraises questions over its US and European expansion plans.

  10. And one cool thing to finish, air taxis will soon be gracing Singapore skies. The first trials with German company Volocopter will take place in the southern part of the city this year.

When sages speak

  • Kristin Shi-Kupfer and Mereike Ohlberg of MERICS, a Berlin-based think tank, find in a report that China’s ambitions to be a global leader in digital technologies pose challenges for Europe.

  • Elsa B. Kania at the Center for a New American Security looks in a report at how Artificial Intelligence is becoming an area of military US-China competition.

Heard by Henny

It is a contest with cinematic potential. Uber versus Ola for dominance of India’s ride-hailing market. The brash, moneyed foreigner is squaring off against the street-smart but leaner local. The gladiatorial intensity of the clash is heightened by the fact that Uber, the US ride-hailing champion, is preparing to list in New York in a move that could value the company at more than $100bn.

So far, it is hard to judge whether Uber or Ola – which was co-founded by Bhavish Aggarwal, a 33-year-old entrepreneur in Mumbai in 2011 – will prevail. Aggarwal is playing to local strengths, offering scooters and rickshaws as well as cars to promote a “wider mobility” strategy. The company is in 3.5 times as many cities as its rival Uber so far. But Uber is sharpening up, increasing its operational efficiency and halving its losses over the last 12 months, says Pradeep Parameswaran, president of Uber India.

Read the story here by Henny Sender, the FT’s chief correspondent, International Finance.

In the Spotlight

Hong Kong-based Klook – an online platform for travellers who want to book activities such as scuba diving and adventure parks – has announced it raised $225m from investors including Softbank’s Vision Fund. The company had a $1bn valuation at its previous funding last August, so this latest dollop reinforces its unicorn status.

Co-founder Eric Gnock Fah, pictured above, says his international background – he grew up in Mauritius, studied in the US, works in Hong Kong and speaks seven languages – helped him understand the needs of travellers. The company says it hosts 100,000 activities in more than 270 destinations in Asia, Europe and the US.

Smart data

Private equity investments by foreign funds into China have been stuck in mud so far this year. With four months gone, the total equity value invested is just $7.56bn – compared to the full year figure of $66.1bn in 2018 (see chart), according to Refinitiv, a data company. The deflation of last year’s “unicorn fever” as well as US-China rivalry – particularly in the field of tech – are two reasons given for the slowdown.

Some, however, are keeping the faith. Investcorp, a Bahrain-based fund with $22.2bn under management, does not see US-China tensions detracting from the attractiveness of Chinese tech investments. “The current tensions between the US and China has increased China’s resolve to build their own technology,” Hazem Ben-Gacem, co chief executive officer, said.

The fund, which last September agreed to invest $150m into the China Everbright Limited New Economy Fund, ended up committing close to $200m to the fund. It is now planning e-mobility and autonomous vehicle investments with Chinese strategic groups. “The appetite from our investor base, particularly in the Gulf, has been absolutely exceptional,” Mr Ben-Gacem said.

Job market

  • Welab, a leading Hong Kong-based fintech company that operates Wolaidai, one of China’s mobile lending platforms, is looking for a group head of finance, according to CANOPY.

  • Former Hong Kong financial secretary, John Tsang, has joined Hong Kong virtual insurer, Bowtie Life Insurance, as a senior advisor.

  • Yee Wee Tang has taken over as the head of Grab Singapore, replacing Lim Kell Jay, who takes on the position of co-chief of staff in the CEO’s office as well as head of GrabFood in Singapore.

  • Private equity advisory firm Campbell Lutyens has hired Charlie Yan as a principal in its Hong Kong office. Yan, who will primarily focus on China, was previously a managing director at Fosun International.

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