Daily Dispatch

Trump issues bans on TikTok, WeChat

Widely used Chinese-based apps pose significan­t threats to national security, says US president

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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.

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