WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump will take action shortly on Chinese software companies that are feeding data directly to the Beijing government, posing a risk to US national security, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday.
“President Trump has said ‘enough’ and we’re going to fix it and so he will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr Pompeo told Fox News Channel’s Sunday Morning Futures.
Mr Pompeo made the comments amid expectations that the Trump administration would soon prevent Chinese-owned TikTok, a wildly popular music-video app, from operating in the United States.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in a separate interview yesterday, said that TikTok must either be sold or blocked in the US due to national security concerns. TikTok, he said, simply “cannot exist as it does”.
“I will say publicly that the entire committee agrees that TikTok cannot stay in the current format because it risks sending back information on 100 million Americans,” Mr Mnuchin said yesterday on ABC. He was referring to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, which is reviewing TikTok. Mr Mnuchin chairs the committee.
Mr Trump had said on Friday night that “as far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States”.
He told reporters that it would happen “soon, immediately. I mean essentially immediately”.
He also said he had the authority to ban the app, owned by ByteDance, one of China’s biggest tech companies, a move he could make by executive order or under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Meanwhile, negotiations for Microsoft to buy the US operations of TikTok are on hold after what Mr Trump said, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported last Saturday.
US officials have said that TikTok could be a tool for Chinese intelligence – a claim that ByteDance has repeatedly denied.
Mr Trump’s words were reportedly already adding to uncertainties for TikTok.
“Before Mr Trump’s remarks, the two sides believed the broad strokes of a deal could be in place by Monday,” WSJ had reported, citing unnamed sources.
The report also said Mr Trump’s threats and opposition to the deal had prompted TikTok to make further concessions, including adding up to 10,000 jobs in the US over the next three years.
TikTok defended itself last Saturday, with its general manager for the US, Ms Vanessa Pappas, telling users that the company was working to give them “the safest app”, amid American concerns over data security.
TikTok, which is especially popular with young audiences who create and watch its short-form videos, has an estimated one billion users worldwide.
It has grown even faster now that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed people physically away from one another, but into close contact online.
Earlier media reports had suggested that Mr Trump would require that the app’s US operations be divested from ByteDance, but he instead announced a ban.
Mr Trump’s announcement of the ban drew criticism from some in the technology sector, including former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos, who questioned whether the move was spurred by national security concerns.
“A 100 per cent sale to an American company would have been considered a radical solution two weeks ago and, eventually, mitigates any reasonable data protection concerns,” Mr Stamos wrote on Twitter.
TikTok users had employed the apps’ signature short-form videos to poke fun at Mr Trump.
One clip that was liked more than 300,000 times shows a young woman stacking bricks and smearing orange paint on her face, apparent in a dig at the US President’s skin tone and controversial pledge to build a wall between the US and Mexico.
A TikTok spokesman in a statement said the business’s US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) creator fund also supports people in the country who are building livelihoods from the platform.
“TikTok US user data is stored in the US, with strict controls on employee access,” she said. “TikTok’s biggest investors come from the US. We are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and safety.”
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE