Straits Times: Singapore set to house one of Alibaba's 7 new global R&D facilities

A cutting-edge research and development (R&D) centre in Singapore, to be built by Chinese technology giant Alibaba, will be among the first of seven such facilities across the globe to be up and running.

The programme will bring R&D investment by Alibaba - China's Google - to US$15 billion (S$20.3 billion) over the next three years, the company announced yesterday.

The Republic is set to house a facility for advanced computing technologies under its Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook Academy initiative, unveiled yesterday near its Hangzhou headquarters, not far from Shanghai.

Alibaba did not disclose the amount of funds to be invested in the facility here, though it will announce further details later.

The lab in Singapore will join six others - two in China, two in the United States, and one each in Russia and Israel - with a focus on research in areas such as machine learning and network security.

The programme is set to add 100 research jobs at Alibaba, which already employs about 25,000 engineers and scientists worldwide.

Its goal is to discover new ways of improving efficiency, network security and ecosystems for users and businesses, according to Alibaba chief technology officer Jeff Zhang, who is heading the programme.

"Over the past 18 years, we have developed a robust technology infrastructure that supports the rapid growth of our business," he said in a statement. "With our global expansion, we have grown and refined our technology manifold."

The programme boasts a 10-person advisory board with researchers from top educational institutions in the US and China.

It is also working to net tie-ups with industry and academic partners, such as its collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley on a computing project.

Alibaba's operations here already include its majority stake in Singapore-headquartered e-commerce firm Lazada, which owns online grocer RedMart.

The latest move is yet another significant boost for Singapore's reputation for tech incubation, according to an industry watcher.

Mr Mark Jansen, technology, media and telecommunications leader at PwC Singapore, said: "This investment in R&D firmly cements Singapore's important position in the region as a preferred petri dish for R&D. It is no surprise that companies continue to seek to do R&D closer to core growth markets... By extending R&D into growth markets, it enables more innovation that is grounded in local needs."

But the Chinese firm may still have to play some catch-up with the big boys across the Pacific.

Google's parent Alphabet last year spent US$13.9 billion on R&D, while Apple chalked up US$10 billion and Facebook forked out US$5.9 billion in the same period.