Alibaba financial affiliate plans to buy stake in Thailand’s Ascend Money

A financial affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is planning to buy a 20% stake in Thailand’s Ascend Money, a deal that is expected to increase the Chinese company’s exposure in Southeast Asia.

Alipay (Hong Kong) Holding Ltd., a unit of the e-commerce major’s affiliate Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group—known as Ant Financial—is also seeking an option that would allow it to further raise its stake in the Thai financial-services company to 30%, according to a statement published on the website of China’s Ministry of Commerce.

“Ant Financial is dedicated to promote inclusive financial services in China and beyond and the pending investment reflects our commitment to expand internationally, and to bring equal access of financial services to more users around the world,” the company said Saturday in a statement, adding that the planned investment was conditional on approval from the antimonopoly division of China’s commerce ministry.

The plan marks the latest move to expand into Southeast Asia by Ant Financial, which now operates in 70 countries and has raised $4.5 billion in funding. Ant has said it wants to grow globally to allow Alipay’s more than 450 million customers to use its digital-payments app while traveling internationally.

Ascend Money Holding is a newly established business unit of Ascend Group, which was established in early 2015 as a spinoff from True Corp., one of Thailand’s top three telecommunications operators. Ascend Group is a subsidiary of agribusiness conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group, whose chairman and chief executive is Dhanin Chearavanont, Thailand’s richest man.

Ascend Group’s businesses, which range from e-commerce and electronic payments to digital marketing as well as venture capital, have expanded to five other Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Ascend Group’s public-relations office said Saturday that Punnamas Vichitkulwongsa, the company’s chief executive, had no comment on the Alibaba affiliate’s plan to acquire the stake.