Trump issues bans on TikTok, WeChat
Widely used Chinese-based apps pose significant threats to national security, says US president
US President Donald Trump on Thursday unveiled sweeping bans on US transactions with China’s ByteDance, owner of videosharing app TikTok, and Tencent, operator of messenger app WeChat, in a major escalation of tensions with Beijing.
The executive orders, which go into effect in 45 days, come after the Trump administration said earlier this week it was stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks and called TikTok and WeChat “significant threats”.
The hugely popular TikTok has come under fire from US legislators and the administration over national security concerns surrounding data collection, amid growing distrust between Washington and Beijing.
On Wednesday, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo expanded efforts on a program dubbed “Clean Network” to prevent various Chinese apps as well as Chinese telecoms firms from accessing sensitive information on US citizens and businesses.
James Lewis, a technology expert with Washington-based think-tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said the orders appeared co-ordinated with Pompeo’s announcement. “This is the rupture in the digital world between the US and China,” he said. “Absolutely, China will retaliate.”
TikTok has 100 million users in the US.
While WeChat is not popular in the country, the app, which has over 1 billion users, is ubiquitous in China. It is also widely used by expat Chinese as a main platform for communications with family and friends as well as a medium for various other services such as games and e-commerce.
WeChat and TikTok were among 59 mostly Chinese apps outlawed in India in June for threatening the country’s “sovereignty and integrity”.
Operator Tencent is China’s second mostvaluable company after Alibaba at $686bn (R12-trillion). It is also China’s biggest video game company and recently opened a studio in California. Its shares fell nearly 10% in Hong Kong after Trump’s order. The yuan, which is sensitive to Sino-US relations, lost 0.4%.
The development comes soon after the US ordered China to vacate its consulate in Houston, Texas, followed by China’s order requiring the US to vacate its consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
But tension has been simmering between the two powers for months, with the US taking issue with China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong.
Trump said this week he would support the sale of TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft Corp if the US government got a “substantial portion” of the sales price.
The order would effectively ban WeChat in the US in 45 days.