US President Donald Trump has issued an executive order banning any transactions with the Chinese owners of the apps TikTok and WeChat, starting in 45 days.
The orders on Thursday came because the Trump administration said it had been stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks and called the Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok and messenger app WeChat “significant threats”.
The TikTok app, owned by ByteDance, could also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party , and therefore the US “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to guard our national security”, Trump said in one order.
In the other, the US president said WeChat, owned by China’s Tencent, “automatically captures vast swaths of data from its users” which this data collection “threatens to permit the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information”.
The moves come as Washington and Beijing clash on an array of issues, starting from the novel coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s policies within the South China Sea, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, to the US’s support for Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory.
ByteDance and Tencent didn’t comment immediately.
Earlier in the week , Trump said he would support the sale of TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft Corp if the United States government got a “substantial portion” of the sales price but warned he will ban the service within the US on September 15.
The app has come under attack from US legislators and therefore the Trump administration over national security concerns because China’s ByteDance owns the technology. They claim the Chinese government could access US user data as a consequence of TikTok’s ownership by ByteDance.
TikTok has repeatedly denied the claims.
Microsoft is currently in talks with ByteDance to shop for TikTok operations within the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and therefore the Financial Times earlier on Thursday reported the US tech giant is now chasing a deal to shop for all of the app’s global business.
Jim Anderson, CEO of social media marketing firm Social Flow, said Trump’s decision to ban TikTok and WeChat was rooted within the distrust between the world’s biggest economies.
“TikTok has gone to great lengths to undertake to assure folks that the Chinese government has never requested that TikTok provide information of users, never on US citizens,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The real concern is that the very fact they haven’t done that yet doesn’t suggest they will not do so within the future. If the appliance is owned by a Chinese company, they really aren’t getting to be ready to refuse an invitation like that from the Chinese government. Combine that with the escalating tensions that’s been happening between the US and China the trade front et al. leads us to where we are now.”
Anderson said while Microsoft’s reported bid to shop for TikTok’s global operations “made tons of sense”, there have been many challenges ahead.
“Microsoft may be a large enough company to be ready to fund that sort of acquisition globally. The question is whether or not ByteDance would want to slice off the US markets and a few others globally, which obviously presents tremendous technical challenges and there is no way that would happen within the next 45 days.”
Meanwhile, the United States Senate on Thursday unanimously voted to approve a bill from Senator Josh Hawley banning federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices.