Trump’s TikTok and WeChat actions targeting China revoked by Biden

WASHINGTON – President Biden revoked a Trump-era attempt to ban Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps,

substituting an executive order on Wednesday demanding a broad review of applications controlled by foreign adversaries to determine if they pose a threat to US security

The new ordinance does not target any particular company, but creates an even broader crackdown on Chinese-owned apps than the Trump administration ordinances it replaces by requiring a review of all related software applications. potential with countries like China.

The Commerce Department has been cleared to begin this review immediately, the White House said.

The executive order is designed to replace the Trump administration’s approach to targeting individual businesses with a broader process of examining the risks posed by apps connected to potentially hostile countries, according to senior officials in the Biden administration.

Officials say they remain concerned about security risks associated with Chinese apps and some other foreign apps, but the executive orders signed by former President Donald Trump were indeed unenforceable.

Federal Court rulings had prevented Mr. Trump’s orders from taking effect. In the case of TikTok, it had sought to shut down the app in the United States if the company was not placed under the control of American owners.

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) framed Mr Biden’s action as a retreat, however, tweeting Wednesday: “This is a major mistake – shows alarming complacency over #China’s access to personal information of Americans, as well as # The growing influence of Chinese companies.

But others saw it as a positive step.

“This is important because it signals an alignment of the concerns of two administrations on these issues, but also because the new administration is clearly moving from a review phase to an action phase,” said Eric Sayers, a technology expert. American-Chinese at the American Institute of Business.

TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., declined to comment. The popular video sharing app has around 100 million users in the United States

WeChat,

a popular multi-purpose app in China owned by tech giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.

, did not respond to a request for comment.

Chinese Embassy spokesman in the United States, Liu Pengyu, said in a statement that China “opposes the United States abusing its national power under the pretext of national security to suppress and coerce non-American companies ”.

“We urge the US government to provide an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for foreign companies,” the statement said.

Wednesday’s decree requires the Commerce Department to review apps developed or owned by people or companies “subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary, including the People’s Republic of China,” according to a backgrounder from the White House.

The review would include apps that could be used to support the military or intelligence activities of other countries, or could be used to collect sensitive personal data, the White House said.

U.S. officials have maintained that TikTok, WeChat, and other Chinese-owned apps collect data that could be shared with the authoritarian Chinese government. These companies disputed this assertion.

Biden’s executive order also revokes a Trump-era ban on the Alipay payments platform, which is owned by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s Ant Group Co., and apps owned by Shenzhen-based Tencent, WeChat Pay, QQWallet and Tencent QQ.

Ant Group declined to comment.

In addition, the Trump order applied to Camscanner, a scanning app owned by INTSIG Information Co. in Shanghai, as well as connected Chinese apps known as SHAREit, Vmate, and WPS Office.

The WeChat app, in particular, is widely used by US companies doing business in China. The US-China Business Council, which represents many of these companies, said it did not have enough information about the new executive decree to comment on the security arrangements.

But the group said the White House should work to establish global agreements on data flow and privacy.

“Without international agreements, there is a real danger that the data flows and privacy policies of each country will inhibit innovation, cripple the Internet of Things, and harm future economic growth in the United States, and of the world, “the group said in a statement.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February that the Biden administration had suspended the Trump administration’s plan to force the sale of TikTok amid ongoing legal challenges.

At the time, the Biden administration said it was developing a comprehensive approach to protecting data security and reviewing the previous administration’s action to determine whether the threat to national security cited by Mr. Trump continued to justify an outright ban.

The Chinese TikTok app has been labeled a national security threat by the United States, but it is not unique in the data it collects. WSJ explains why countries are building digital walls and treating user data as a sovereign asset, and how that could change our technology. Illustration: Zoé Soriano

In April, ByteDance appointed Shou Zi Chew as the new CEO of TikTok, replacing former YouTube director Vanessa Papps, who became TikTok’s interim director in 2020 following the abrupt resignation of former Walt Disney. Co.

executive Kevin Mayer. TikTok executives said they interpreted the rise of Singapore-based Mr Chew as an indication that TikTok no longer viewed its relationship with the United States as its greatest risk.

U.S. administration officials said on Wednesday that TikTok continued to be subject to separate scrutiny by a government panel tasked with examining cross-border transactions.

James Lewis, a Chinese technology expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said if the panel’s review did not lead to a settlement, “TikTok should expect to be back on the chopping block,” facing same pressures in a Commerce Department review. as was the case under the Trump administration.

The new order also calls for recommendations on further strengthening the US approach to protect sensitive data such as genetic information. Administration officials said they also plan to seek greater involvement from other friendly countries in its efforts to control the data practices of apps based in potentially hostile countries.

The move is the latest sign of the Biden administration’s emerging policy in China, which represents a more stringent approach recognizing Beijing’s economic and geopolitical strength.

In March, the United States joined with its allies in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials engaged in the mass incarceration of mainly Muslim ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

Last week, the president extended a Trump-era ban on Americans investing in Chinese companies allegedly linked to the Chinese military. Many of the newly targeted companies are subsidiaries and affiliates of large state-owned companies and other companies named on the previous blacklist.

The United States is also working on supply chain issues intended to reduce reliance on China, and the Senate on Tuesday approved a $ 250 billion bill to increase government spending on research and development. technologies in a context of increasing competition from China and other countries.

Mr Biden left on his first overseas trip as president on Wednesday and will meet with European and NATO leaders as well as a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Part of its goal, officials said, will be to rally allies to confront Beijing.

Social media review

More WSJ coverage of Trump’s TikTok ban, selected by editors.

Write to John D. McKinnon at [email protected] and Alex Leary at [email protected]

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