China says US revoking of China apps ban a ‘positive step’

BEIJING (AP) — China’s Ministry of Commerce said Thursday that a United States (US) move to revoke the Trump administration’s executive orders intended to ban apps like TikTok and WeChat was a “positive step”, amid strained relations between the two countries.

“We hope that the US will treat Chinese companies fairly and avoid politicising economic and trade issues,” ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said at a regular news briefing yesterday.

The White House on Wednesday revoked some blanket-style orders made under former President Donald Trump against Chinese apps including the messenging app WeChat, short video app TikTok and the Alipay payments app. A new executive order from President Joe Biden said the US would conduct an “evidence-based” analysis of transactions involving apps that are created, supplied or controlled by China.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated at a daily news briefing that China will continue to defend its interests. It urged the US “to stop generalising the concept of national security and abusing state power to suppress Chinese technology enterprises”.

Courts blocked the Trump administration’s efforts last year to ban TikTok and WeChat, but the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is still conducting a national-security review of TikTok.

TikTok and WeChat app icons on a smart phone. PHOTO: AP

The Biden administration’s stance reflects concern that users’ personal data could be exposed by popular apps tied to China if the ruling party pressures companies to
share data.

The administration said in February that it was replacing Trump’s approach with a more targetted strategy. It has not actually weighed in yet on whether TikTok and other apps pose a danger to Americans. A senior administration official said on Wednesday that the Trump actions weren’t “always implemented in the soundest fashion”.

The aim of the review is to set clear criteria to evaluate specific data security and privacy risks for each app, he said.

That could lead to a range of potential future actions on an app-by-app basis. “We want to take a tailored, tough approach here,” he said.

CFIUS had set deadlines for TikTok to divest its US operations, but such a sale has not happened. Last week, the Biden administration expanded a list of Chinese companies on a blacklist from the Trump era purported to have links to Chinese military and surveillance.

American companies and individuals cannot invest in these companies, which include telecommunications gear supplier, Huawei and Chinese oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corp.

Chinese officials and companies have denied that their products and services pose a security threat.