TikTok owner ByteDance’s long-awaited chat app is here


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In WeChat -dominated China, there’s no shortage of challengers out there claiming to create an alternative social experience. The latest creation comes from ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup and the operator behind TikTok, the video app that has consistently topped the iOS App Store over the last few quarters.

The new offer is called Feiliao (飞聊), or Flipchat in English, a hybrid of an instant messenger plus interest-based forums, and it’s currently available for both iOS and Android. It arrived only four months after Bytedance unveiled its video-focused chatting app Duoshan at a buzzy press event.

Screenshots of Feiliao / Image source: Feiliao

Some are already calling Feiliao a WeChat challenger, but a closer look shows it’s targeting a more niche need. WeChat, in its own right, is the go-to place for daily communication in addition to facilitating payments, car-hailing, food delivery and other forms of convenience.

Feiliao,

👌

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Baidu, China’s answer to Google, reports first quarterly loss since 2005


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Baidu, widely seen as the Google of China, felt the heat from its spending on artificial intelligence and other next-gen technologies that have yet to reach the mass market as it unveiled troubled first-quarter financials on Thursday.

The company logged a net loss attributable to shareholders of $49 million in the quarter ended March 31, marking the first quarterly loss since it went public in 2005. That compares to net income of 6.69 billion yuan a year before.

Baidu is the biggest search service in China and has reaped huge rewards from search ads in the PC era. But as consumers allocate their attention to new forms of mobile services — notably recommendation-based apps to discover content — Baidu is losing its appeal.

Xiang Hailong, senior vice president of Baidu’s search business, resigned after serving the company since 2005, announced the earnings report. The search giant has renamed its

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China’s Tesla wannabe Xpeng starts ride-hailing service


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There’re a lot of synergies between electric vehicles and ride-hailing. Drivers are able to save more steering an EV compared to a gas vehicle. Environmentally conscious consumers will choose to hire an electric car. And EVs are designed with better compatibility with autonomous driving, which is expected to hit the public road in the coming decades.

Indeed, Tesla is eyeing to launch its first robotaxis in 2020 as part of a broader ride-sharing scheme. Over in China where Tesla has a few disciples, EV startup Xpeng Motors, also known as Xiaopeng, just started offering a ride-hailing app powered by its own electric fleets.

Screenshot of Xpeng’s ride-hailing app ‘Youpeng Chuxing’

The company is the latest in a clutch of carmakers flocking to introduce their own ride-hailing platforms. Didi Chuxing’s massive loss has not deterred their ambitious plans. Rather, this may be a prime time to crack a market long dominated

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Tech stocks slide on US decision to blacklist Huawei and 70 affiliates


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The United States has been lobbying for months to prevent its western allies from using Huawei equipment in their 5G deployment, and on Wednesday, Washington made it more difficult for the Chinese telecom titan to churn out those next-gen products.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it will add Huawei and its 70 affiliates to the so-called ‘Entity List,’ a move that will prevent the telecom giant from buying parts and components from U.S. companies without approval from Washington. That confirms reports of the potential ban a day before.

Despite being the largest telecom equipment maker around the world, Huawei relies heavily on its American suppliers, giving the U.S. much leeway to hobble the Chinese firm’s production.

Following the dramatic move, shares of a gauge of Huawei affiliates slumped on Wednesday. Tatfook Technology, which sells to Huawei as well as Ericsson and Bosch, dropped 2.

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Tencent’s mixed bag for Q1: record profit despite weakest revenue growth yet


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Tencent, Asia’s largest tech firm, had a horrific 2018 on account of a country-wide freeze on new game monetization in China, but there’s evidence it has turned the corner.

The company’s new mobile gaming hit Game for Peace has yet to kickstart the company’s recovery from a few weakening quarters, but its booming financial technology division has helped to neutralize the brunt to some degree.

The Chinese social media and gaming titan ended the first quarter of 2019 with its slowest revenue growth since going public to $12.69 billion, a 16 percent increase year-over-year.

Profit attributable to equity holders, however, logged a record $4 billion that beat analyst estimates.

Though most famous for WeChat, video games have fuelled Tencent’s earnings and stock prices for many years. The lucrative segment took a hit during a prolonged licensing freeze last year that prevented Tencent from monetizing a few blockbuster titles like

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Huawei launches AI-backed database to target enterprise customers


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China’s Huawei is making a serious foray into the enterprise business market after it unveiled a new database management product on Wednesday, putting it in direct competition with entrenched vendors like IBM, Oracle and Microsoft.

The Shenzhen-based company, best known for making smartphones and telecom equipment, claims its newly minted database uses artificial intelligence capabilities to improve tuning performance, a process that traditionally involves human administrators, by over 60 percent.

Called the GaussDB, the database works both locally as well as on public and private clouds. When running on Huawei’s own cloud, GaussDB provides data warehouse services for customers across the board, from the financial, logistics, education to automotive industries.

The database launch was first reported by The Information on Tuesday citing sources saying it is designed by the company’s secretive database research group called Gauss and will initially focus on the Chinese market.

The announcement comes at a time

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JD.com to foster connected vehicle fleets with $55M investment


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JD.com, the Chinese answer to Amazon and Alibaba’s long-time rival, is looking to further automate its logistics network after agreeing to pour 376 million yuan (around $55 million) into Jiangsu Xinning Modern Logistics in exchange for up to 10 percent stake.

That’s according to a filing released on Monday by Xinning, a China-listed logistics firm with supply chain services tailored to consumer electronics. The ally appears as a good fit since much of JD’s revenue is driven by big-ticket electronics and home appliances sales.

In a separate filing on Monday, Xinning said it’s inked a strategic partnership with JD Logistics, JD’s loss-making logistics arm, to build out a big data system that will boost efficiency and cut costs by optimizing matches between cargos and vehicles. The digital solution aims to reach 200 thousand vehicles by 2020 and over 2 million eventually, and will fulfill both JD’s in-house as

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Tencent’s new alternative to PUBG is already topping the revenue chart


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In a move clearly driven by economic interests and an urgency to meet stringent regulations, the world’s largest games publisher Tencent pulled its mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on Wednesday and launched a new title called Game for Peace (the literal translation of its Chinese name 和平精英 is ‘peace elites’) on the same day.

As of this writing, Game for Peace is the most downloaded free game and top-grossing game in Apple’s China App Store, according to data from Sensor Tower data. That’s early evidence that the new title is on course to stimulate Tencent’s softening gaming revenues following a prolonged licensing freeze in China. Indeed, analysts at China Renaissance estimated that Game for Peace could generate up to $1.48 billion in annual revenue for Tencent.

Tencent licensed PUBG from South Korea’s Krafton, previously known as Bluehole, in 2017 and subsequently released a test version of the game for

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Alibaba-backed facial recognition startup Megvii raises $750 million


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One of China’s most ambitious artificial intelligence startups Megvii, more commonly known for its facial recognition brand Face++, announced Wednesday that it has raised $750 million in a Series D funding round.

Founded by three graduates from the prestigious Tsinghua University in China, the eight-year-old company specializes in applying its computer vision solutions to a range of use cases such as public security and mobile payment. It competes with its fast-growing Chinese peers, including the world’s most valuable AI startup SenseTime — also funded by Alibaba — and Sequoia-backed Yitu.

Bloomberg reported in January that Megvii was mulling to raise up to $1 billion through an initial public offering in Hong Kong. The new capital injection lifts the company’s valuation to just north of $4 billion as it gears up for its IPO later this year, sources told Reuters.

China is on track to overtake the United States in AI

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Tencent promises its technology will ‘do good’


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Tencent, one of Asia’s most valuable companies with a current market cap of around $460 billion, has introduced a new motto after co-founder and CEO Pony Ma said this week he wanted ‘tech for good’ to be part of the company’s vision and mission in the future.

The company has not yet officialized the new corporate philosophy and it’s unclear how the “don’t be evil”-like slogan will manifest in Tencent’s business strategy. Nor do we know if it will replace the old mission, which is still emblazoned on its website:

Tencent’s mission is to “improve the quality of life through internet value-added services”. Guided by its “user oriented” business philosophy, Tencent achieves its mission via the delivery of integrated internet solutions to over 1 billion netizens.

Episodes of recent events can probably provide some hints to what the new slogan might entail. The old mission, which focuses on the

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India unseats China as Asia’s top fintech funding source


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China’s massive fintech industry took a beating in recent months as the government continued to wind down online lending nationwide, rattling investor confidence.

Funding for fintech startups shrank 87.6 percent year-over-year to $192.1 million during the first quarter of 2019, a new report from data provider CB Insights shows. India, which recorded $285.6 million raised for fintech startups in the period, overtook China to be Asia’s top fundraising hub for financial technology. Both countries clocked in 29 fintech deals, suggesting a cooling investor sentiment in China which saw its height of 76 deals just three quarters ago.

cb insights china q1

Chart: CB Insights

The plunge in China has followed on the heels of tightened regulation around online lending, suggests CB Insights . Over the past few years, China has rolled out a flurry of measures to rein in financial risks arising from its fledgling online lending industry. Peer-to-peer lending, which matches

cb insights china q1

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AWS wants a bigger share of Asia following Hong Kong launch


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Amazon’s cloud computing unit is making further inroads into Asia after it opened a data center in Hong Kong this week, adding to the seven existing locations where it currently operates across the Asia Pacific and China.

The new entry will likely give the American giant some leg up in its regional battle with Alibaba’s cloud service, which, according to a new Gartner report, was the biggest cloud infrastructure provider in the Asia Pacific last year. But that won’t be the case with all countries, notably China where the cards are often stacked against foreign players.

Amazon Web Services has been operating in China for quite some time, albeit through rough and roundabout routes. A set of cyber laws enacted by Beijing in mid-2017 required foreign companies to store data locally and outsource their hardware parts to Chinese partners. In response, AWS teamed up with two separate local providers

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U.S. slams Alibaba and its challenger Pinduoduo for selling fakes


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China’s biggest ecommerce company Alibaba was again on the U.S. Trade Representative’s blacklist over suspected counterfeits sold on its popular Taobao marketplace that connects small merchants to consumers.

Nestling with Alibaba on the U.S.’s annual “notorious” list that reviews trading partners’ intellectual property practice is its fast-rising competitor Pinduoduo . Just this week, Pinduoduo founder Colin Huang, a former Google engineer, wrote in his first shareholder letter since listing the company that his startup is now China’s second-biggest ecommerce player by the number of “e-way bills”, or electronic records tracking the movement of goods. That officially unseats JD.com as the runner-up to Alibaba.

This is the third year in a row that Taobao has been called out by the U.S. government over IP theft, despite measures the company claims it has taken to root out fakes, including the arrest of 1,752 suspects and closure of 1,282

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Mejuri raises $23M Series B to serve women buying jewelry for themselves


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New Enterprise Associates, the 42-year-old venture capital firm, has invested in the $23 million Series B round for Mejuri, a startup capturing millennial women’s penchant for affordable and treat yo’ self type of jewelry rather than diamonds and precious stones for special occasions.

It’s the latest instance of startups drawing investor interest with their direct-to-customer retail model. Based in Toronto and Buenos Aires, four-year-old Mejuri designs, makes and sells jewelry directly to women online and through offline showrooms, bypassing middle-person costs. Besides striving for reasonable prices, Mejuri also wants to upend an entrenched practice in its industry.

Traditional jewelry, the startup points out, targets men for gifting and makes higher markups acceptable. With its D2C play, Mejuri believes it’s putting the purchasing decision back to women; indeed, it found out 75 percent of its customers are buying for themselves. Its team of 120 employees is constantly on the watch

Mejuri-Press-11

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Tencent’s latest investment is an app that teaches grannies in China to dance


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Besides churning out video games for China’s young generations, Tencent has also been attuned to the need of silver-haired users: its latest bet is an app that teaches middle-age and elderly users, most of whom are female, how to dance.

Called Tangdou, or “sugar beans” in Chinese, the app announced on Monday that it’s raised a Series C funding round led by Tencent with participation from existing investors GGV Capital and Xiaomi founder Lei Jun’s Shunwei Capital, as well as IDG Capital.

The financial infusion makes for an interesting move for Tencent, whose WeChat messenger counts users over the age of 55 as its fastest-growing group. In fact, Tangdou has piggybacked off WeChat to acquire users by creating lite-apps that are designed for ease of use and run within the ubiquitous chatting tool, which is many senior users’ first taste of the internet.

While Tangdou did not disclose the

tangdou

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China’s new gaming rules to ban poker, blood and imperial schemes


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Lots of news has surfaced from China’s gaming industry in recent weeks as the government hastens to approve a massive backlog of titles in the world’s largest market for video games.

Last Friday, On April 10th, the country’s State Administration of Press and Publication, the freshly minted gaming authority born from a months-long reshuffle last year that led to an approval blackout, held a gaming conference and enshrined a new set of guidelines for publication that are set to move some to joy and others to sorrow. TechCrunch confirmed with an attendee present at the conference and a source close to the SAPP that the event took place.

On April 22, China finally resumed the approval process to license new games for monetization. Licensing got back on track in December but Reuters reported in February that the government stopped accepting new submissions due to a mounting pile of applications.

The

china games

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Amazon China to close local marketplace and place more focus on cross-border


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Amazon has finally given up the fight with Chinese online shopping giants to capture the domestic market. On Thursday, the Seattle-based ecommerce company announced it will shut down its marketplace on Amazon.cn, which connects mainland Chinese buyers and sellers, while other units of its local venture will stay intact.

“We are working closely with our sellers to ensure a smooth transition and to continue to deliver the best customer experience possible,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch, adding that this segment of the business will end on July 18.

The partial retreat, first reported by Reuters and Bloomberg, is indicative of the relentless ecommerce race in China where Alibaba and JD.com dominate, with newcomer Pinduoduo closing on the incumbents’ heels.

But this is hardly the end of Amazon’s China story. The American giant has over the years attracted waves of cross-border sellers, many of whom have hailed from

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Starbucks challenger Luckin’s fundraising spree continues with $150M investment


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Coffee startup Luckin is continuing its fundraising spree as it sets its sight on becoming an alternative to Starbucks in China.

The a-year-and-a-half old company announced on Thursday that it closed a Series B-plus raise totaling $150 million. The fresh proceeds valued Luckin at $2.9 billion post-money, up from $2.2 billion just four months ago.

While many question Luckin’s cash-fueled expansion, Blackrock, which owns a 6.58 percent stake in Starbucks, shows its confidence in the Chinese startup by pumping $125 million through its private equity fund into Luckin’s new round.

With that, the New York-based investment firm has its bet on two contrasting models for China’s coffee consumption. While Starbucks zeroes in on the brick-and-mortar experience, Luckin is a network of last-mile coffee delivery centers plus places for people to pick up orders and sit down targeting busy white-collar workers.

In a move that would amp up

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Dutch chipmaker NXP makes China push by backing radar company Hawkeye


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Dutch chipmaker NXP Semiconductors has come a long way since Qualcomm’s outsize $44 billion to acquire it fell through last year. In an announcement released on Tuesday, NXP said it’s agreed to back and partner with Hawkeye Technology, a Chinese company specializing in automotive radars, as part of an ambition to capture the rapid growth of sensor-powered vehicles in China.

Financial terms of the investment were undisclosed, but the tie-up will see Hawkeye providing a suite of technical know-how to NXP. That includes the Chinese company’s engineering team, a research lab it set up with Southeast University in the Chinese city of Nanjing, and its 77Ghz radar, a long-range sensing technology that enables cars to detect crashes down to sub-millimeter accuracy.

Under the agreement, NXP and Hawkeye will work together to create reference designs rather than retail products.

“The fast development of ADAS [Automatic Data Acquisition System] and autonomous

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Student sues JD.com’s billionaire CEO Richard Liu for alleged rape


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A Chinese student has filed a lawsuit against JD.com founder and chief executive Richard Liu, alleging the billionaire businessman raped her in Minnesota back in August, four months after local prosecutors decided not to press charges.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Hennepin County on Tuesday, is seeking damages of more than $50,000. It identifies the student as Jingyao Liu (not related to Richard Liu), an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota.

JD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. Liu has maintained his innocence through his lawyers throughout the investigation. Liu said on social media in December that he had “broken no laws” but felt “extreme self-admonishment and regret” for the pain that his behavior “on that day” brought to his family and wife, who is an internet celebrity known as Sister Milk Tea.

In December, Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said

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