SoftBank reportedly considering bid for TikTok in India

Its founder Masayoshi Son has a long history of investing in India and a deep network of local business connections

FILE PHOTO: TikTok logos are seen on smartphones in front of a displayed ByteDance logo in this illustration taken November 27, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
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Japan’s 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 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.

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

China's TikTok is considering selling its operations in several countries after local governments shut out the app, citing security concerns.

India, a long-time regional rival, has taken a particularly tough stance, banning 59 of China’s largest internet services in July, including TikTok.

SoftBank would almost certainly need a local partner to cut a deal that would win government approval.  Before the ban, India was one of TikTok's largest markets, with more than 200 million users.

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

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. But the consortium fell apart after Mr 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. It is 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 in a bid for TikTok’s operations in the US and several other countries for $20 billion (Dh73.4bn), according to a person familiar with the matter.

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