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TikTok CEO faces intense grilling on China connection

WASHINGTON (ANN/STRAITS TIMES) – TikTok’s Singaporean Chief Executive, Chew Shou Zi, found himself in the spotlight once again during a congressional hearing focused on child safety on social media platforms.

The hearing, held at Capitol Hill on Wednesday, marked Chew’s second appearance before US lawmakers in less than a year.

Chew fielded a barrage of questions encompassing TikTok’s Chinese ownership, alleged censorship of political content, and even inquiries into his own citizenship.

The video-sharing app’s popularity among American youth has made it a focal point of discussions, particularly against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the US and China.

 Shou Zi Chew, CEO of TikTok, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on January 31, 2024 in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

During the hearing, four other prominent tech executives, including Mark Zuckerberg of Meta, Evan Spiegel of Snap, Linda Yaccarino of X, and Jason Citron of Discord, also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The focus of the questioning revolved around the proliferation of child sexual abuse materials on their respective platforms, with a stern warning that laws may be amended to allow victims to sue tech platforms.

Senator Ted Cruz raised concerns about TikTok’s content disparity between its Chinese version, Douyin, and the US version.

He questioned Chew on the promotion of science and educational content in China compared to the alleged promotion of self-harm videos and anti-Israel propaganda in the United States. Mr. Chew refuted the claim, stating, “Senator, that is just not accurate.”

Senator Tom Cotton pressed Mr. Chew on sensitive geopolitical issues, asking about his stance on the Tiananmen Square incident and the Chinese government’s actions against the Uighurs. Despite challenges, Mr. Chew maintained his position, emphasizing TikTok as a platform for free expression.

Questions about Mr. Chew’s citizenship and potential affiliations with the Communist Party of China were also raised by senators, to which he asserted his Singaporean identity and denied any ties with the Chinese party. He clarified that TikTok has not shared user data with the Chinese government, reiterating the platform’s status as a private company owned by ByteDance.

Despite Mr. Chew’s efforts to address concerns, some senators, including Josh Hawley, expressed suspicions about TikTok’s susceptibility to Chinese influence. Mr. Chew defended the company’s commitment to data privacy, citing a substantial investment in securing American user data.

This hearing suggests that the 2023 attempts by Mr. Chew to alleviate concerns about TikTok’s Chinese ownership may not have fully quelled the skepticism among US lawmakers.