Wechat And Tiktok

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Sep 08, 2020 Both Tencent and ByteDance, the companies that own and operate WeChat and TikTok, respectively, are subject to China’s security, intelligence, counter-espionage and cybersecurity laws. Aug 05, 2020 The United States wants “untrusted” Chinese apps removed from U.S. App stores, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday, calling out popular Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat. Sep 18, 2020 TikTok boasts 100 million users in the United States with most of them being younger users, while WeChat has about 19 million users, mostly members of the Chinese diaspora and those connected to.

Aug 11, 2020 TikTok is under investigation for exfiltrating facial recognition information from California to China; WeChat users, regardless of their location, are subject to content surveillance. Aug 10, 2020 TikTok, a social networking app for sharing short user-produced video clips, and WeChat, a super app including messaging, social media and payment platforms, both collect extensive data on their.

By David (Wei) Wu, MBA ’21

During the Trump presidency, U.S.-China relations reached their lowest point in decades as the United States imposed significant import tariffs on Chinese goods and products. Towards the end of his presidency in late 2020, President Trump further intensified the ongoing trade war between the two countries by signing two executive orders, which effectively banned the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat and the popular Chinese social media app TikTok from operating in the United States, due to national security and data privacy concerns.

WeChat ban

Wechat And Tiktok

WeChat is a social messaging app developed by the Chinese tech giant Tencent. The app is by far mainland China’s most popular social messaging app, with an estimated monthly user base of more than 1 billion people. In addition to its unrivaled popularity in China, the app also has a huge following among the global Chinese diaspora, many of whom depend on the app to maintain family and social ties with loved ones in China. In fact, there are around 19 million WeChat users in the United States alone.

On August 6, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13943, which stated that due to national security and data privacy concerns, anyone in the United States would be prohibited from engaging in any transaction that is related to WeChat, effectively banning WeChat from the United States.

In response, a nonprofit organization called the WeChat Users Alliance sued the Trump administration, seeking to overturn the executive order (U.S. WeChat Users Alliance v. Trump). The plaintiffs argued that the WeChat ban both exceeded the president’s authority under the Fifth Amendment and was unconstitutional as it violated the First Amendment. While this lawsuit is ongoing, the plaintiffs won temporary relief from the court in the form of a preliminary injunction, which prevents the ban from taking place while litigation is ongoing.

TikTok ban

TikTok, like WeChat, is another popular social media app from China. Its parent company is Beijing-based Bytedance. Specifically, TikTok is a short-form video-sharing app whose users create and share videos less than 60 seconds long. It is important to note that TikTok was one of the first Chinese-based social media apps that has gained a global following; by 2020, TikTok had almost 46 million users in the U.S. alone.

On August 6, 2020, the same day he banned WeChat, President Trump also effectively banned TikTok in the United States by issuing Executive Order 13942, which stated that “any transactions between TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, and U.S. citizens will be outlawed for national security reasons.” In response, Bytedance and a plaintiff group composed of TikTok users each sued the Trump administration separately (TikTok v. Trump and Marland v. Trump), seeking to overturn the executive order. Similar to the WeChat lawsuit, plaintiffs in both TikTok-ban lawsuits received preliminary injunctions in their favor from the courts, preventing the ban from taking place while litigation is ongoing.

Hope for WeChat and TikTok under a new administration?

After President Biden took office in January 2021, he immediately set out to overturn a significant number of regulations put into effect by the Trump administration. Luckily for WeChat and TikTok, it appears the Biden administration has opted to take a softer approach towards them. In February 2021, the Justice Department under the Biden administration asked the court system to place a temporary hold on the legal proceedings involving both the WeChat and the TikTok bans to enable the Biden administration to conduct a thorough review of Trump’s bans and determine whether they were truly justified.

U.S.-China relations going forward

While the temporary halt to the WeChat and TikTok bans may signal a thawing of the tense U.S.-China relationship, the pause likely represents only a temporary truce between the two superpowers. At her Senate confirmation hearing to become U.S. Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, President Biden’s top trade nominee, commented that existing tariffs against China are legitimate tools to counter China’s state-driven economic model. Furthermore, Tai also iterated that “China needed to live up to its commitments under the Phase 1 trade deal it signed with the United States in early 2020.”

Comments like these suggest the current strains and tensions between the U.S. and China are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, given how intertwined and interwoven the U.S. and Chinese economies are, it will be crucial for the two superpowers to find a way to work with each other through methods that are cooperative, constructive and mutually beneficial.

About David (Wei) Wu, MBA ’21

David Wu is a student in the Executive MBA Metro NY class of 2021 and an Emerging Markets Institute Fellow. An attorney by profession, David specializes in business litigation and estate planning. He recently joined his family’s enterprise, an automotive manufacturer supplier with operations in both the United States and China. David lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife, Sally, and their newborn son, William.

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON - President Trump's new executive orders banning Chinese social media apps TikTok and WeChat marked a significant escalation in the ongoing technology tensions between the U.S. and China, according to analysts.

On Aug. 6, 2020, Trump declared that TikTok and WeChat posed a threat to national security and invoked the International Emergency Economic Power Act. He prohibited Americans from carrying out any transactions with the parent companies of TikTok and WeChat beyond 45 days — meaning U.S. companies and individuals will not be able to advertise with the platforms, offer them for download via app stores, or enter into licensing agreements with them.

WeChat logo

VOA spoke with government officials, think tank experts and app users for perspective on the immediate and long-term implications of the decision to ban the two major Chinese apps.

Two Internets: One controlled by US, other by China

Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, predicted in 2018 that within the next decade, there would be two distinct Internets: one led by the U.S. and the other one led by China.

Only two years after his comments at a private event held by investment firm Village Global VC, that prediction seems to have become a reality.

“The Trump Administration has adopted a defensive measure to protect itself. Because the Internet in the world has been divided into two parts by China, one is free and the other is captivated,” said a high-level U.S. official familiar with the matter who spoke with VOA on background.

The official, who declined to be identified when discussing the administration’s thinking, said that China is taking advantage of the Internet’s openness to undermine it, because China has no interest in easing up on the “Great Firewall” that closely monitors the country’s roughly 800 million online “netizens.”

“These two Internets are not reciprocal. The Chinese government with its state power freely uses the tools provided by the free world to destroy the cornerstones of the free Internet,' the official said.

The official added that Trump’s order will protect the foundation of a free Internet and prevent the platforms controlled by the Chinese Communist government from adversely impacting free speech outside of China.

Government intervention: good or bad?

In the next few weeks, several things could happen to TikTok. It could be bought by a U.S. tech company, somehow banned by the Trump Administration, or receive punishment under CFIUS, a government agency reviewing the company’s 2017 acquisition of Muiscal.ly, which led to the creation of the popular video-sharing social network.

Wechat And Tiktok Music

“TikTok will not be the last TikTok, there will be companies in the future that will be under similar scrutiny, and what happens with TikTok in the next few weeks will have ramifications for future companies,” said Megan Lamberth, a research assistant for the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

Some policy analysts from America’s closest allies welcome the latest hardline approach by the Trump Administration, saying government intervention is necessary under the current circumstances.

“We do need to apply some restrictions and often even some coercive aspects in a legal sense on businesses to prevent that kind of technology leakage in particular sectors,” said John Lee, former policy advisor to the Australian foreign minister at an event hosted by the Hudson Institute on countering China’s aggressive tech policies.

TikTok, a social networking app for sharing short user-produced video clips, and WeChat, a super app including messaging, social media and payment platforms, both collect extensive data on their users. The core concern from western countries is that the Chinese government will be able to access this data and potentially leverage it for espionage or blackmail. U.S. officials also worry that the heavy censorship of these apps will result in biased political opinions and increased spread of misinformation.

Lee added that developed countries need to bring business communities along in resolving these issues, but “can't leave it to the business community or the market to work these issues out.”

Other experts warn there might be potential backlash from the government’s action to cut off Chinese rivals to American tech companies.

Tiktok

“The more the U.S. advances the idea of cutting off one country or another from the Internet in the way we use it, the more that type of scrutiny could come back and be applied to American companies as well,” Graham Webster, editor in chief of the Stanford–New America DigiChina Project at the Stanford University Cyber Policy Center, told VOA.

Members of the City Youth Organization hold posters with the logos of Chinese apps in support of the Indian government for banning the popular video-sharing 'TikTok' app, in Hyderabad on June 30, 2020.

Wechat And Tiktok Ban

Mixed reaction from app users

Tiktok

TikTok is one of the world’s best-loved apps, with more than 800 million monthly active users in the United States.

WeChat, while not as popular in the U.S. as TikTok, is extensively used by the Chinese diaspora to connect with family and friends in China.

“I think my life will be hugely impacted if WeChat is banned,” said Helen, a Chinese international student at New York University (NYU). “WeChat is the only way of communication between me and my friends in China.”

Most chatting apps, such as Line, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram, are banned in China. Currently WeChat is the only “super app” connecting people living in the U.S. and China and offers cross-border payment options.

Kevin, who works in a restaurant in New York’s Chinatown, told VOA that it would be hard for him to connect with family back home. “I know some people who have houses here for rent and live in China, they are using WeChat to collect rent. If the app is banned, it will be a big problem for them,” he said.

Chinese Americans who spoke with VOA, meanwhile, do not seem to be concerned with the ban on WeChat.

“It’s not going to stop people from making other apps to chat, I don’t know what’s the point,” said Stanley, a nurse living in New York.

Monica Xu, Wenhao Ma contributed to this report.

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