China has “firmly opposed” US President Donald Trump’s orders to ban popular Chinese social media apps TikTok and WeChat, calling it an act of political manipulation that overrides market principles.
Mr Trump had on Thursday issued a pair of executive orders to ban TikTok and WeChat in 45 days, a move that marks a significant escalation in the confrontation between Beijing and Washington.
The executive orders will ban any “transactions” between Americans or American firms and ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, as well as any transactions relating to WeChat with its parent firm Tencent. The ban will take effect on Sept 20.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in response that Washington was using national security as a pretext to use national power to unreasonably suppress Chinese enterprises, calling it a “naked hegemonic act”.
While he said Beijing “firmly opposed” the latest moves, he stopped short of spelling out what countermeasures China would take.
“The US side does not hesitate to harm the rights and interests of the majority of American users and companies. It will override market principles and international rules, and wilfully carry out political manipulations and political suppression,” he said at a briefing yesterday. “The only result will be a decline in its own moral standing, national image and international trust in the US.”
Mr Trump’s orders do not spell out what sort of transactions would be banned, stating that this would be defined by the US Secretary of Commerce.
The orders pointed out that both apps “automatically captures vast swathes of information from its users”.
In relation to WeChat, a widely used messaging and payments platform in China, it added that this data collection allows the Chinese Communist Party access to personal and proprietary data from Americans. It also allows China to keep tabs on Chinese citizens who visit the US, it said.
Washington’s latest move also turns up the pressure on ByteDance, which is in the middle of negotiating a sale of short video-sharing app TikTok to Microsoft. Mr Trump has threatened to ban the app, which reportedly has 100 million users in the US, unless it is sold to an American firm.
TikTok said in a statement that it was shocked by the executive order, which it said was issued without due process and that it would “pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure… our company and our users are treated fairly – if not by the administration, then by the US court”.
Tencent said it was reviewing the executive order to get a “full understanding”.
It is still unclear how users of both apps would be affected by the Trump administration’s latest move. But transactions that could be banned include purchases of ads on the apps and agreements to make them available on app stores, Bloomberg reported yesterday, citing an administration official.
Analysts have also said that a ban on WeChat, which is widely used for communication by Chinese businesses, could make it harder for US and Chinese firms to communicate with one another.
The orders by Mr Trump come a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on US companies to remove “untrusted” Chinese-owned apps such as TikTok and WeChat from their app stores. It was a part of a series of measures under a “Clean Network” programme that he unveiled to protect American data.
Bilateral ties between Beijing and Washington are at a historic low, with increasing confrontation in the past months over trade, technology, espionage and the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Observers say the latest moves mark a significant upping of the ante in the competition between both sides.
Mr Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the nationalist tabloid Global Times, wrote on his Weibo account that Washington was out to destroy China’s most successful global tech companies.
“The Trump administration has publicly exposed its ugly intentions of barring non-US firms from breaking through its technological hegemony,” he said.
Dr Wang Huiyao, president of the Beijing-based think-tank Centre for China and Globalisation, said Washington’s latest measures went against the spirit of free enterprise and competition.
“We haven’t seen this kind of language for a long time. This will intensify tensions and accelerate the technical decoupling between China and the US,” he said.