April 13, 2021

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Trump issues executive orders to ban U.S. transactions with WeChat, TikTok

President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders banning any U.S. transactions with Chinese tech firms Tencent, which owns the messaging service WeChat, and ByteDance that owns the popular short-video-sharing app TikTok.

The ban will take effect in 45 days.

WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” Trump said in the executive order banning the app, adding that the application also captures personal information of Chinese nationals visiting the U.S.

The orders would basically ban the app in the United States as it would prohibit “any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.” 

The same order was issued for TikTok and its Beijing-based owner, ByteDance.

TikTok “may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party,” Trump said in the executive order banning the video-sharing app. “The United States must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security.”

TikTok has consistently denied those allegations. It says that U.S. user data is stored in the country itself with a backup in Singapore, and that its data centers were located outside China, implying the information was not subjected to Chinese law. However, experts have pointed to existing legislation in China which could force local Chinese companies like ByteDance and others to hand over data to Beijing.

Microsoft is in talks with ByteDance to acquire parts of TikTok within the next three weeks, ahead of a Sept. 15 deadline.

ByteDance and Tencent were not immediately available for comment. 

The moves came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration wants to see “untrusted” Chinese apps like WeChat and TikTok removed from U.S. app stores. He detailed a new five-pronged “Clean Network” effort aimed at curbing potential national security risks and said because those apps have parent companies based in China, there was “significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for Chinese Communist Party content censorship.” 

Pompeo also said the State Department would work with other government agencies to limit the ability of Chinese cloud service providers to collect, store and process data in the U.S. 

The latest moves represent another step in the deteriorating relations between the two countries. Recently, the U.S. closed the Chinese consulate in Houston, which prompted China to do the same for the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. 

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