China warns US over TikTok, WeChat ban

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China has accused the United States of “bullying” and threatened to take “necessary” countermeasures after Washington banned downloads of the Chinese video-sharing app, TikTok, and effectively blocked the use of the messaging super-app, WeChat.

“China urges the US to abandon bullying, cease its wrongful actions and earnestly maintain fair and transparent international rules and order,” the Chinese Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Saturday.

“If the US insists on going its own way, China will take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies.”

The United States Department of Commerce announced the bans on Friday, citing national security grounds although China and the companies have denied US user data is collected for spying.

Under Friday’s order, the Tencent-owned WeChat app would lose functionality in the US from Sunday onwards. TikTok users will be banned from installing updates but could keep accessing the service through November 12.

The timeframe gives TikTok’s parent group ByteDance some breathing space to clinch an agreement over the fate of its US operations.

“We disagree with the decision from the Commerce Department, and are disappointed that it stands to block new app downloads from Sunday and ban use of the TikTok app in the US from November 12,” ByteDance said in a statement.

“We will continue to challenge the unjust executive order.” TikTok says it has 100 million US users and 700 million globally.

‘Very, very popular’

Friday’s order follows weeks of deal-making over TikTok, with US President Donald Trump pressuring ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations to a domestic company to satisfy Washington’s concerns over TikTok’s data collection and related issues.

California tech giant Oracle recently struck a deal with TikTok along those lines, although details remain foggy.

Trump said on Friday said he was open to a deal, noting that “we have some great options and maybe we can keep a lot of people happy,” suggesting that even Microsoft, which said its TikTok bid had been rejected, might continue to be involved, as well as Oracle and Walmart.

Trump noted that TikTok was “very, very popular,” said “we have to have the total security from China,” and added that “we can do a combination of both”.

The bans are in response to a pair of executive orders issued by Trump on August 6 that gave the Department of Commerce 45 days to determine what transactions to block from the apps he deemed pose a national security threat. That deadline expires on Sunday.

The Trump administration has ramped up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks amid escalating tensions with Beijing on a range of issues from trade and human rights to the battle for tech supremacy.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the commerce department’s order “violates the First Amendment rights of people in the United States by restricting their ability to communicate and conduct important transactions on the two social media platforms”.

The action against WeChat, used by more than one billion people worldwide, bars the transfer of funds or processing of payments to or from people in the US through it. Users could also start to experience significantly slower service or sporadic outages from Sunday night.

WeChat developer Tencent Holdings’ called the order “unfortunate” but said it “will continue to discuss with the government and other stakeholders in the US ways to achieve a long-term solution”.

WeChat has had an average of 19 million daily active users in the US, analytics firms Apptopia said in early August. It is popular among Chinese students, ex-pats and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China.

The order does not ban US companies from doing businesses on WeChat outside the US, which will be welcome news to US firms such as Walmart and Starbucks that use WeChat’s embedded “mini-app” programmes to facilitate transactions and engage consumers in China, officials said.

The order will not bar transactions with Tencent’s other businesses, including its online gaming operations, and will not ban Apple, Google or others from offering TikTok or WeChat apps anywhere outside the US. WeChat users have sued to stop the ban, and a federal judge in California on Friday set an emergency hearing for Saturday at 1:30pm Pacific time.

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