NEW YORK (AP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump ordered a sweeping but vague ban on dealings with the Chinese owners of consumer apps TikTok and WeChat, a move Chinese officials said was “political manipulation.”
The twin executive orders issued on Thursday – one for each app – take effect in 45 days and could bar the popular apps from the Apple and Google app stores, effectively removing them from distribution in the US.
China’s Foreign Ministry accused Washington of misusing national security as an excuse to “unreasonably suppress” foreign companies and expressed opposition to the latest move but gave no indication whether it might retaliate.
“The US is using taking national security as an excuse, frequently abuses national power and unreasonably suppress companies of other countries,” said a ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, at a briefing yesterday. “This is an outright hegemonic act. China is firmly opposed to it.”
Wang, who didn’t mention TikTok or any other company by name, called on the Trump administration to “correct its wrongdoing” but gave no indication how Beijing might respond.
Earlier in the week, Trump threatened a deadline of September 15 to “close down” TikTok in the US unless Microsoft or another company acquires it, a threat the new executive order appears to formalise.
TikTok did not reply to queries. Tencent and Microsoft declined to comment on the executive orders.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an expansion of the US crackdown on Chinese technology to include barring Chinese apps from US app stores, citing alleged security threats and calling out TikTok and WeChat by name.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry yesterday accused Washington of “political manipulation” and said the moves will hurt American companies and consumers.
As president, Trump has often opted for provoking confrontations, often of a personal nature, with specific companies, both American and foreign. Trump’s orders cited legal authority from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act.
The executive orders said the actions are needed because the China-owned apps “threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the US.” They call on the Commerce Secretary to define the banned dealings by the September 15 deadline.
TikTok, known for its short, catchy videos, is widely popular among young people in the US and elsewhere. It is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which operates a separate version for the Chinese market. TikTok insists it does not store US user information in China, instead caching it in the US and Singapore, and said it would not share it with the Chinese government.
TikTok said it has 100 million US users and hundreds of millions globally. According to research firm App Annie, TikTok saw 50 million weekly active users in the US during the week of July 19, the latest available figure. That’s up 75 per cent from the first week of the year.
WeChat and its sister app Weixin in China are hugely popular apps that incorporate messaging, financial transfers and an array of other services, and claim more than one billion users. Around the world, many people of Chinese descent use WeChat to stay in touch with friends and family and to conduct business in mainland China.
Within China, WeChat is censored and expected to adhere to content restrictions set by authorities. The Toronto-based Citizen Lab Internet watchdog group has said WeChat monitors files and images shared abroad to aid its censorship in China. The order against Tencent could have ramifications for users beyond WeChat, which is crucial for personal communications and organisations that do business with China.
Tencent also owns parts or all of major game companies like Epic Games, publisher of Fortnite, a major video game hit, and Riot Games, which is behind League of Legends.