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Welcome to TechCrunch’s China roundup, a digest of events that happened at major Chinese tech companies and what they mean to tech founders and executives around the world.

The talk about U.S.-China relationships over the past two weeks has centered heavily on the NBA controversy, which has put the interest of some of China’s largest tech firms at stake. Last week, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey voiced support for Hong Kong protests in his since-deleted tweet, angering China’s NBA fans and prompting a raft of local tech companies to sever ties with the league. But some businesses seem to be back on track.

Tencent, which is famous for a slew of internet products, including WeChat and its Netflix-like video service, has been NBA’s exclusive streaming partner since 2009 and recently renewed the deal through the 2024-25 season. As many as 490 million fans in China watched NBA programming through Tencent in just one season this year, the pair claims.

The basketball games are clearly a driver of ad revenue and subscribers for Tencent amid fierce competition in China’s video streaming market, but following Morey’s statement, the company swiftly announced (in Chinese) it would suspend portions of its broadcast arrangements with the NBA. Popular smartphone brand Vivo and Starbucks’s local challenger Luckin also promised to pause collaboration with the NBA.

It was a tough call for businesses having to choose between economic interest and patriotism, and Tencent was tactful in its response, pledging only to “temporarily” halt the streaming of NBA “preseason games (China).” As public anger subsided over the week, Tencent resumed airing NBA preseason games on Monday. After all, the content partnership reportedly cost Tencent a heavy sum of $ 1.5 billion.

Entertainment giant turns to education

tiktok edutok

TikTok is probably the Chinese Internet service being most closely watched by the world at the moment. Its parent firm ByteDance, last reportedly valued at $ 75 billion, has ambitions beyond short videos.

This week, more details emerged on the upstart’s education endeavors through a WeChat post by Musical.ly founder Lulu Yang, whose short-video startup was acquired by ByteDance and subsequently merged with TikTok. Yang confirmed he was helping ByteDance to develop an education device in collaboration with phone maker Smartisan’s former hardware team, which ByteDance has absorbed. The product, which leverages ByteDance’s artificial intelligence capabilities, will be a “robotic learning companion” for K-12 students to use at home.

The news arrived in the same week that ByteDance’s flagship video app TikTok announced producing educational content for India, where it’s used by 200 million people every month. The move is designed to assuage local officials who have vehemently slammed TikTok for hosting illicit content, as my colleague Manish Singh pointed out.

Diving into education appears to be a sensible move for ByteDance to build relationships with local authorities, which can at times find its entertainment-focused content problematic. The multi-billion-dollar online education industry is also highly lucrative. ByteDance, with 1.5 billion daily users across TikTok, Douyin (TikTok for China), Toutiao news aggregator and other new media apps, is in a good position to monetize the enormous base by touting new services, whether they are educational content or mobile games.

Also worth your time

  • A total of 53 major video streaming services in China have introduced a “safe mode” for teenagers as of this week, state media reported (in Chinese). During the controls mode, underage users won’t be able to search for content, send real-time comments or private messages, upload or share videos, or reward live streaming hosts with virtual gifts. It’s part of China’s national effort to protect young people from consuming harmful digital content and internet addiction, which has also spawned age checks processes in Tencent games. 
  • Xiaohongshu, a fast-growing social commerce app in China, is back in Android app stores nearly three months after it was banned by the government for undisclosed reasons. Rumors had it that the service, which was reportedly valued at more than $ 2.5 billion last year, was used to spread pornography and fake reviews. It’s hardly the first tech company hit by media regulation, and it can probably learn a thing or two from ByteDance, which has aggressively ramped up its content moderation force following a sequence of crackdowns by the government.
  • Meituan will partner with 1,000 vocational schools in the country to train as many as 100 million workers from the service industry over the next ten years, the Hong Kong-listed company announced (in Chinese) this week. Food delivery makes up the bulk of the on-demand services giant’s business but its footprint spans a wide range. The classes it provides to prepare workers for a digital era will also touch upon skincare, hair styling, manicure, plastic surgery, hospitality and parenting, a program highlighting the extensive reach of technology into Chinese people’s every life.
  • Chinese workers turn out to be big advocates for the application of AI. According to a survey by Oracle and research firm Future Workplace, workers in India (60 percent) and China (56 percent) are the most excited about AI. Japan, where the labor force is shrinking, ranks surprisingly low (25 percent), and the U.S. has an equally mild reaction (22 percent) toward the technology.


TechCrunch

U.S. security experts are conceding that China has won the race to develop and deploy the 5G telecommunications infrastructure seen as underpinning the next generation of technological advancement and warn that the country and its allies must develop a response — and quickly.

The challenge we have in the development of the 5G network, at least in the early stage, is the dominance of the Huawei firm,” said Tom Ridge, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security and governor of Pennsylvania on a conference call organized recently by Global Cyber Policy Watch. “To embed that technology into a critical piece of infrastructure which is telecom is a huge national security risk.” 

Already some $ 500 million is being allocated to the development of end-to-end encryption software and other technologies through the latest budget for the U.S. Department of Defense, but these officials warn that the money is too little and potentially too late, unless more drastic moves are made.

(You can also hear more about this at TechCrunch Disrupt in SF next week, where we’ll be interviewing startup founders and investors who build businesses by working with governments.)

The problems posed by China’s dominance in this critical component of new telecommunications technologies cut across public and private sector security concerns. They range from intellectual property theft to theft of state secrets and could curtail the ways the U.S. government shares critical intelligence information with its allies, along with opening up the U.S. to direct foreign espionage by the Chinese government, Ridge and other security experts warned.


TechCrunch

Waresix, one of a handful of startups aiming to modernize logistics in Indonesia — the world’s fourth most populous country — has pulled in $ 14.5 million to grow its 18-month-old business.

This new investment, Waresix’s Series A, is led by EV Growth — the growth-stage fund co-run by East Ventures — with participation from SMDV — the investment arm of Indonesia corporation Sinar Mas — and Singapore’s Jungle Ventures . The startup previously raised $ 1.6 million last year from East Ventures, SMDV and Monk’s Hill Ventures. It closed a seed round in early 2018.

Waresix is aiming to digitize logistics, the business of moving goods from A to B, which it believes is worth a total of $ 240 billion in Indonesia.

A large part of that is down to the country’s geography. The archipelago officially has over 17,000, but there are five main ones. That necessitates a lot of challenges for logistics, which are said to account for 25-30 percent of GDP — a figure that is typically below five percent in Western markets — while Indonesia barely scraped the top 50 rankings in World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index.

But, as Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the key market for digital growth in the region, that makes this an attractive problem to solve… or, rather, attractive industry to modernize.

Like others in its space worldwide — which include Chinese unicorn Manbang and BlackBuck in India — Waresix is focused on optimizing logistics by making the process more transparent for clients and more efficient for haulage companies and truckers. That includes removing the chain of ‘middle man’ brokers, who add costs and reduce transparency, and provide a one-stop solution for transportation by land or sea, as well as cold storage and general cargo handling.

As of today, Waresix claims a fleet of more than 20,000 trucks and over 200 warehouses partners across Indonesia. The company said it plans to use this new capital to expand that coverage further. In particular, that’ll include additional land transport options and additional warehouse capacity in tier-two cities and more remote areas. That’s a push that founders Andree Susanto (CEO) and Edwin Wibowo (CFO) — who met at UC Berkeley in the U.S. — believe fits with Indonesia’s own $ 400 billion commitment to improve national infrastructure and transport.

Waresix trucks

Waresix trucks

It is also consistent with East Ventures, the long-standing early-stage VC, which has backed a pack of young companies aiming to inject internet smarts into traditional industries in Indonesia. Some of that portfolio includes Warung Pintar, which develops smart street vendor kiosks, Kedai Sayur, which is digitizing street vendors, and Fore Coffee, which draws inspiration from China’s digital-first brand Luckin Coffee, which recently listed in the U.S.

Now with EV Growth, which reached a final close of $ 200 million thanks to LPs that include SoftBank, the East Ventures has the firepower to write larger checks that go beyond seed and pre-Series A deals as it has done with Waresix.

But the company is far from alone in going after the logistics opportunity in Indonesia. Its rivals include Kargo, which was started by a former Uber Asia exec and is backed by Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick’s 10100 fund among others, and Ritase.

Ritase, which claims to be profitable, closed an $ 8.5 million Series A this week. It said it has 7,500 trucks and, on the client side, some 500 SMEs and a smattering of well-known global brands. Kargo has kept its metrics quiet, but it is a later arrival on the scene. The startup only came out of stealth in March of this year when it announced a $ 7.6 million funding round.


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