The international game of chicken between China and the Trump administration over TikTok is starting to feel like an episode of “The Bachelor” at this point, with suitors like Microsoft, Twitter, and Walmart competing for the app’s U.S. assets in the face of a possible ban. Apparently, though, China would rather choose option d) None of the above.
Chinese officials reportedly believe that capitulating to the Trump administration’s demands would undermine the authority of both ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based parent company, and Beijing by making them appear weak, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters Friday on condition of anonymity. Rather than see ByteDance commit to a forced sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations to avoid the White House’s threatened crackdown, Beijing would prefer the app shut down completely, both in the U.S. and other markets.
Two of the sources told Reuters that Chinese officials were willing to delay whatever deal ByteDance reaches by using the country’s newly updated export control rules if need be. Last month, China revised its technology export list for the first time in 12 years to require a federal license for exporting “technology based on data analysis for personalized information recommendation services,” which sounds an awful lot like what TikTok uses.
When asked about President Donald Trump and the TikTok deal at a press briefing Friday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused the U.S. of strong-arming foreign companies by under the guise of national security concerns.
In case you haven’t been keeping up with all this drama, Trump and other federal officials claim that Beijing has been leveraging TikTok to spy on its U.S. users. The popular short-form video app sports some 500 million users worldwide and saw 46 million downloads in the U.S. in 2019 alone. To date, TikTok has vehemently denied these allegations and said repeatedly that all data from U.S. users is stored on domestic servers. While the company’s made moves to further distance TikTok’s U.S. operations from ByteDance, the administration has barreled on ahead with its fearmongering, with Trump issuing an executive order in August that threatened to effectively ban the app in the U.S. unless ByteDance surrendered ownership.
Trump’s given the company a deadline to hand over TikTok’s U.S. assets before the ban would go into effect, though even he seems a little fuzzy on when exactly that is. Zero hour could be just a few days away or it could be on September 20th or it could be all the way in November. Just like TikTok’s starring on its own twisted version of “The Bachelor,” Trump is evidently playing “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”: Everything’s made up and the dates don’t matter!