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TikTok is wading into South-east Asia’s e-commerce wars

In March, TikTok’s chief executive, Mr Chew Shou Zi, faced angry lawmakers in Washington, who grilled him for five hours on topics ranging from misinformation to mental health. A threat of a ban in America, the short-video app’s largest market, looms large. Other Western governments are making similar noises. TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance, has already been locked out of India, another big market, since 2020 on grounds of national security.

Contrast that with the welcome Mr Chew received in June in Jakarta. He charmed a crowd in the Indonesian capital that included government officials with his plans for the company in South-East Asia, promising to invest “billions of dollars” in the region over the next few years. As uncertainty looms over its prospects elsewhere in the world, TikTok, which in 2020 moved its global headquarters to Singapore, is eyeing South-east Asia’s nearly 700 million consumers to bolster its fortunes. Reactions to his talk ranged from favourable to gushing – except among the region’s digital incumbents.

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