President Donald Trump has signed two executive orders giving Chinese corporate giants ByteDance and Tencent 45 days to sell off their U.S. operations for TikTok and WeChat respectively, or face a ban on all U.S. transactions with the companies.
The executive order for TikTok strongly condemned the app as a tool of Chinese Communist Party surveillance, and cited this as the primary justification for the impending ban.
It begins with a description of TikTok and why it presents such a threat to U.S. security:
TikTok, a video-sharing mobile application owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., has reportedly been downloaded over 175 million times in the United States and over one billion times globally. TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.
In addition, the executive order alleged that TikTok has been used to promote disinformation in the United States, while censoring content critical of the Chinese government.
“TikTok also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive, such as content concerning protests in Hong Kong and China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities,” the executive order added.
“This mobile application may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, such as when TikTok videos spread debunked conspiracy theories about the origins of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.”
Trump also noted that TikTok had been banned in India, another country greatly concerned about Chinese surveillance.
He went on to draw similarities between TikTok and WeChat, a lesser known app largely used in the U.S. as a social networking tool among Chinese expatriates.
“Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users,” the second executive order stated. “This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”
The President added that WeChat was being used to surveil potential Chinese dissidents living overseas.
“In addition, the application captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives,” he continued. ” For example, in March 2019, a researcher reportedly discovered a Chinese database containing billions of WeChat messages sent from users in not only China but also the United States, Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia.”
It was also noted in the executive order that WeChat is banned not only in India, but also in Australia. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has taken a tough stance on China, and has aligned closely with allies in the Asia-Pacific region to contain China’s growing global influence.