ByteDance embarks on hiring spree in Singapore

ByteDance, the owner of viral video app TikTok, has embarked on a hiring spree in Singapore, as the Chinese group deepens its operations outside the mainland to satisfy global regulators.

The Beijing-based company controlled by billionaire Zhang Yiming is hiring hundreds of engineers and senior management positions in the Asian city-state for TikTok, as well as its enterprise software business Lark and other products.

GlobalData’s job analytics database showed that ByteDance had posted 338 jobs in Singapore in the past six months. By comparison only five jobs were posted in India, where TikTok was suddenly shut down in June last year on security grounds.

Singapore is viewed as a neutral city by Chinese technology companies as tensions continue to rise between Washington and Beijing. Tencent and Alibaba both announced last year that the city would serve as a key international hub, with Alibaba spending half a billion dollars to buy a skyscraper in the heart of the financial district in May.

ByteDance has not confirmed which of its international offices is its global hub outside China but its expansion in Singapore — it moved into a larger premises in a landmark office tower late last year — comes amid setbacks in India, the US and the UK, where it has been blocked or accused of breaching privacy regulations.

“As we grow our presence in Singapore, we continue to look for the best global and local talents to support our business and augment local skills and capabilities,” the company said.

The Financial Times reported last year that ByteDance could seek to separate TikTok and other units into a global business that was separate to its Chinese entity. Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing an executive order from former president Donald Trump that sought to force the sale of TikTok’s US operations.

In China, where ByteDance still makes most of its money, it operates the mainland version of TikTok called Douyin and several other businesses including its education-technology unit Dali.

One lawyer who helped advise the company on its new office space said it “had all the hallmarks of a global hub”. They added: “ByteDance seems to be spending more on this office than any other outside of China.”

“I think they are hedging their bets given the rapidly evolving regulatory environment,” said a consultant based in the city.

The hiring spree in Singapore will also support ByteDance’s push into south-east Asia. The company has created an education portal to test out a seller marketplace in Indonesia, the region’s biggest ecommerce market, called TikTok Shop Seller University.

TikTok’s migration to Singapore to cater to the Asian market is part of a wider trend of corporates moving out of China and Hong Kong, said Jayanth Kolla, technology analyst at Bangalore-based consultancy Convergence Catalyst.

For the south-east Asia market — including Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines — Singapore is seen as “neutral” ground that could be viewed more favourably by regulators, said Kolla.

“Singapore is increasingly becoming for all practical purposes the official south Asia and south-east Asia hub,” he added. “The government has been accommodative and is jumping on the opportunity.”

TikTok has laid off the majority of its 2,000 employees in India, formerly its biggest market with 200m users, after failing to get any clarity from New Delhi on when it can resume operations. Some of that headcount was being transferred to Singapore, a person familiar with the company’s plans said.

ByteDance is still hiring in other markets including Canada, Europe and the US. The Financial Times reported last month that the company was planning to go head-to-head with Facebook in ecommerce in the US despite data privacy concerns in the country. TikTok denies it shares US user data with the Chinese government.

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