More Than TikTok: US vs. China
Isadora Teich wrote this article
Everyone has been talking about the Trump administration’s moves to ban TikTok in America, but it looks like a lot more than TikTok has been caught in the crossfire.
This is about more than just an app that’s popular with teens.
Let’s take a look at what this ban is already affecting, and what might happen as a result.
What’s Really Going On?
Many have been skeptical of the Trump administration’s goal of banning TikTok in the US over national security concerns. Most think of TikTok as an app where teens share dance videos and memes.
So, they do not take it that seriously.
Some have speculated about what the US governments actual intentions are, or if a ban like that is even possible.
News outlets, including The Washington Post, have talked about this as part of a wider tech conflict between the East and West.
Jim Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told WaPo:
“This administration appears to be moving toward forcing a rupture between the U.S. and China, at least in the tech space.”
While the general public is only becoming aware of these issues now, this conflict has apparently been bubbling under the surface for some time.
One Source Of The Problem
For years, U.S. national security officials have been concerned that Chinese tech firms are stealing trade secrets and intellectual property from U.S. companies.
They have also thought it is likely that they are collecting personal information from Americans. This is due to the orders of the Chinese Communist Party and a general lack of reciprocity.
While the United States offers open doors to Chinese companies, China has not offered the same thing to American tech firms.
U.S. tech firms are very often shut out. If they won’t abide by Beijing’s strict requirements, such as sharing their web code or censoring content, they ultimately get the silent treatment.
WeChat Is Also In The Firing Line
Bytedance’s TikTok is the only major global social media app created and owned by a Chinese company.
Some feel that because many western social media apps, such as Facebook and Instagram, are banned in China, this is a simple act of petty retaliation by the US government.
While Trump’s claims that the Chinese government is using TikTok to spy on Americans is largely unfounded, there are some questionable things tied to another major Chinese social media app, WeChat.
WeChat is an app used widely in China, where it is called Weixin. It is also used by those living abroad who want to stay in touch with their relatives in China. In China, it is also a major part of everyday commerce.
However, it looks like the Chinese government may be using WeChat to spy on users abroad. According to research by the University of Toronto Group Citizen Lab, there is evidence that WeChat is used to surveil users beyond China’s borders.
Both WeChat and TikTok have been ordered to sell at least some portion of themselves to US companies by mid-September, or they will be banned.
While it is looking like Microsoft might buy TikTok from Bytedance, things are a little more complicated when it comes to Tencent selling WeChat. WeChat has become so integral to Chinese communications that fundamentally changing it and shifting a portion of its ownership to a US company would be quite difficult.
The Collateral Damage
Many influencers and internet marketers who have made TikTok an integral part of their businesses have begun to panic. This has also led to chaos in the international markets. Tencent shares plunged as much as 10% in Hong Kong. If implemented, these bans create problems for American companies that operate in China as well.
It is still unclear if Apple and Google will be forced to stop supporting these apps completely, including within China, should the ban come into effect. As Weixin is a major part of everyday communication and commerce in China, if Apple phones were unable to access the app, sales would likely plummet.
CNN reports that China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “firmly opposes” the executive orders which it feels are unfairly targeting WeChat and TikTok. Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused the United States of “political manipulation and oppression.”
“The United States is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses,” Wengbin said.
India’s TikTok Ban
However, it is interesting to note that the US is not the only country that has issues with TikTok.
India barred the app, along with over 50 other Chinese-made apps and games, in the beginning of the summer. Many experts think that if the US ban goes through, likely many Chinese games and apps will be banned in the US as well.
In India, it is important to note that this move against TikTok appears to be politically motivated.
The Indian Government said that it banned Chinese apps for national security reasons.
However, this ban followed violence between Chinese and Indian troops near the China-India border. These skirmishes over disputed territory resulted in the deaths of over a dozen Indian soldiers.
Australia also considered banning the app briefly. However, the government decided not to move forward with this. The Prime Minister of Australia recently admitted that there was no actual reason to ban the app.
A Complete Veto On Chinese Tech
What has been reported widely as a silly TikTok ban has far larger implications.
It appears that the Trump administration wants to ban almost everything digital that comes out of China from use in the US. This includes cloud storage services, independent apps, apps linked to services, operators, app stores, submarine cables, and more.
This is a part of what the US calls the Clean Network Program.
This program has been announced as a way to stop the Chinese Communist Party from espionage and other alleged malicious digital acts. It has asked other world governments to take part.
Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State of the United States, has asked American allies to join in securing data from the Chinese government, which he refers to as an evil entity.
At the moment, what exactly this Clean Network Program entails is quite vague. It is speculated that this might be intentional. It could apply pressure to the Chinese government, which would force them to negotiate.
What Do The Experts Think?
Some experts doubt that such bans are even workable. Others say that they will do more harm than good to the US.
Josephine Wolff, an assistant professor of cybersecurity policy at Tufts University, has been highly critical of these bans. She writes:
The president’s executive orders are not about cybersecurity. They are a retaliatory jab in the ongoing tensions between China and the United States. In fact, the ban’s greatest impact will probably not be on the bottom lines of TikTok and WeChat’s parent companies, but instead on promoting a fundamentally Chinese view of internet security.
Stewart Baker, a former general counsel at the National Security Agency and top policy official at the Department of Homeland Security, told WaPo:
TikTok became a trial case for how we feel about China succeeding in our social media environment, and nobody was comfortable with that.
He also warns that this us-vs-them mentality will likely harm both countries and global tech innovation in general. China’s doing some remarkable research and development in a similar vein to Silicon Valley, and we’ll likely lose touch with that innovation. Both sides are likely to be slower and less effective in their R&D.
Others feel that we are likely to get caught in a tech war, where China and the US alternate in finding ways to punish each other via a long and winding loop of restrictions and bans.
It seems that this will ultimately accomplish nothing except instability, stymied tech innovation, and frustration for global businesses and consumers alike.
It is clear that China and the US do not trust each other, but what exactly will happen in this possible budding tech war is far less clear. Do you think that TikTok and all Chinese digital tech will be banned from the US for some time, forever, or not at all?
Talk to me.
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