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Trump to take action on TikTok "shortly"

US Secretary of State Pompeo said Chinese software companies were "feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus," such as facial recognition patterns, phone numbers and information on friends.

TikTok app is seen opened on a smartphone. Photo: Jens Kalaene/dpa.
TikTok app is seen opened on a smartphone. Photo: Jens Kalaene/dpa.

President Donald Trump will make an announcement "shortly" on the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday, as Washington ramps up pressure on Chinese tech companies.

Trump had on Friday signalled he would ban TikTok in the United States using emergency economic powers or an executive order.

"He will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party," Pompeo told broadcaster Fox News.

He said Chinese software companies were "feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus," such as facial recognition patterns, phone numbers and information on friends.

"These are true national security issues, they're too privacy issues for the American people," Pompeo said.

"The president when he makes his decision will make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people," Pompeo said. "We're closing in on a solution and I think you'll see the president's announcement shortly."

Owned by Chinese firm

TikTok, a popular social media app among a younger demographic that specializes in short video formats, is owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance. The company insists it does not share user data with Beijing.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told ABC News that TikTok "can't exist as it does."

Mnuchin, who chairs the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, said TikTok was under review by the interagency body, which examines the national security implications of foreign business deals.

"The entire committee agrees that TikTok cannot stay in the current format because it risks sending back information on 100 million Americans," he said.

"The president can either force a sale or the president can block the app using IEEPA," Mnuchin said, referring to the 2019 International Economic Emergency Powers Act, which effectively bans communications tools that pose a national security threat to the US.

US software giant Microsoft has confirmed it is in talks to buy TikTok for four of the "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing nations - US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

"Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns," the statement said, in apparent reference to data storage and potential handovers to Beijing. Microsoft said users' data would be kept in the US.

Support

Such a deal gained some support from allies of the president, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

"To fans and users of #TikTok I understand your concerns. However President Trump is right to want to make sure that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t own TikTok and most importantly — all of your private data," Graham tweeted. "What’s the right answer? Have an American company like Microsoft take over TikTok. Win-win. Keeps competition alive and data out of the hands of the Chinese Communist Party."

The app is the latest wrinkle in worsening tensions between the world's two largest economies, that initially was over trade and limited maritime issues in the South China Sea.

It has since evolved into a wider dispute including over Hong Kong and Beijing's treatment of Muslim minorities, and a crackdown on Chinese tech companies.

Washington argues these firms are a national security threat while pushing its allies to take similar measures.

TikTok allows users to create short videos - often with some basic effects and music - which have become increasingly popular.

Last year, Washington banned US military personnel from using the app on government-issued phones due to security concerns.

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