In a significant escalation of tensions between the United States and China, President Donald Trump has announced bans on transactions with two major Chinese companies, ByteDance and Tencent. ByteDance is the owner of the popular app TikTok, while Tencent owns WeChat. These executive orders will go into effect in 45 days, indicating the severity of the measures being taken.

The Trump administration’s decision comes as part of a broader effort to remove “untrusted” Chinese apps from American digital networks. TikTok and WeChat have been under scrutiny due to concerns over national security and data collection practices, leading to a growing sense of distrust between the two countries.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also made significant efforts to strengthen the “Clean Network” program, aiming to prevent Chinese apps and telecom companies from accessing sensitive information about American citizens and businesses. The coordinated actions of the executive orders and Pompeo’s announcement mark a significant rupture in the digital landscape between the US and China.

TikTok, with its massive user base of over 100 million in the United States, has faced criticism from lawmakers and the Trump administration. WeChat, on the other hand, may not be as widely used in the US but holds great importance for expat Chinese as a primary platform for communication and other services in China. India previously banned TikTok and 58 other mostly Chinese apps in June, citing threats to the country’s sovereignty.

The ban on WeChat, in particular, has had a significant impact on Tencent’s shares, causing a nearly 10% decline in the company’s value in Hong Kong. Trump’s orders were authorized under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, giving the administration the authority to prevent US firms or citizens from engaging in transactions with sanctioned parties. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will determine the specific transactions covered by this prohibition after the orders take effect in mid-September.

Tensions between the US and China have been steadily escalating over the past few months, stemming from a range of issues including China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the curbing of freedoms in Hong Kong. President Trump has expressed support for the sale of TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft, on the condition that a substantial portion of the sales price goes to the US government. However, he also plans to ban the app in the United States on September 15.

The orders issued by Trump claim that TikTok poses a national security threat, suggesting that it may be utilized for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party. The ban on WeChat is based on the assertion that the app collects large amounts of user data, potentially allowing the Chinese Communist Party access to personal and proprietary information belonging to Americans.

Several experts in Washington have raised questions about the logic behind these orders, as the perceived threat of TikTok has only recently emerged despite the app’s presence for several years. The 45-day waiting period leading up to the ban has sparked concerns about the potential political implications of prohibiting such a popular app.

As tensions between the US and China continue to mount, it remains unclear how China will respond to these bans on its companies. The digital world is becoming increasingly divided, with the US taking aggressive actions against Chinese companies in response to concerns about national security and data privacy.

Useful links:
1. The New York Times: Trump Issues Orders Banning TikTok and WeChat from Operating in 45 Days
2. Al Jazeera: TikTok to Fight Trump’s Ban Decision, Attorney General Barr Involved