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SoftBank Group Corp Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son speaks at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, Oct. 4, 2018. Photo: Reuters

SoftBank is said to consider bid for TikTok in India amid tech tensions between Beijing and New Delhi

  • TikTok is considering selling its operations in several countries after local governments shut out the app on data privacy fears
TikTok ban

SoftBank Group is exploring assembling a group of bidders for TikTok’s India assets and has been actively looking for local partners, according to people familiar with the matter.

Over the past month, the Japanese conglomerate, which owns a stake in TikTok’s Chinese parent ByteDance, has held talks with the heads of India’s Reliance Jio Infocomm and Bharti Airtel, the people said, asking not to be identified because the details are private. While discussions have fizzled since, SoftBank is still exploring options, according to the people.

Representatives for SoftBank, ByteDance, Reliance and Bharti Airtel declined to comment.

TikTok is considering selling its operations in several countries after local governments shut out the app, citing fears that sensitive user data was passing into the hands of the Chinese state.

China’s new export rules mean quick TikTok sale ‘unlikely’

India, a long-time regional rival, has taken a particularly tough stance, banning 59 of China’s largest internet services in July, including TikTok. The move came less than a month after 20 Indian soldiers died in border clashes amid heightening nationalism stoked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India was one of TikTok’s largest markets, with more than 200 million users. In the US, President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok and then ordered ByteDance to sell its assets in the country because of national security concerns.

Despite holding only a minor stake in ByteDance, SoftBank has played a particularly active role in negotiations. In the US, the Japanese company brought in Walmart as the main investor in a group of bidders that also included Google parent Alphabet Inc.

China reiterates right to review tech export deals amid confused TikTok US sale

But the consortium fell apart after the Trump administration insisted a US tech company lead the investments, one of the people said. Google said it is no longer interested, while Walmart joined a bid led by Microsoft Corp. It’s unclear which group SoftBank is currently working with in the country.

Centricus Asset Management, which is also a frequent adviser to SoftBank, teamed up with Triller Inc. in a bid for TikTok’s operations in the US and several other countries for US$20 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.

ByteDance founder reconsiders TikTok options after new China rules

SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son has a long history of investing in India and a deep network of local business connections. Local start-ups backed by Son include e-commerce provider, ride-hailing service Ola Cabs and hotel-booking app Oyo Rooms.

In December, SoftBank poured US$275 million into eye-care provider Lenskart, minting India’s latest unicorn. The company is also part of a solar power joint venture with Bharti Enterprises Pvt. and Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Co. Son helped pave the way for Walmart’s entry into the country by selling its stake in Flipkart Online Services Pvt in 2018.

Son has been on a US$42 billion asset selling spree, offloading stakes in Alibaba Group Holding, T-Mobile US Inc. and SoftBank’s domestic telecom unit, SoftBank Corp. Son is also looking to sell or list Arm Ltd., the chip design firm that he bought four years ago for US$32 billion.