Is Trump banning TikTok and WeChat because of safety or politics?
- Since launching in 2016, TikTok has reached over 500 million global monthly active users. Zhang Yiming is the billionaire founder behind TikTok and its parent company ByteDance.
- WeChat, the Chinese-based messaging app, has over a billion monthly users, right behind Facebook’s WhatsApp and Messenger.
- As of September 18, the Trump administration is banning Americans from downloading TikTok and limiting the use of WeChat because of national security concerns.
- Politicians have raised concerns about TikTok as a potential national security threat, worrying that the app could censor content in the US or access American users’ data.
- The majority of TikTok’s users are located in Asia. In India, TikTok has been downloaded more than 611 million times, which makes up approximately 30 percent of the app’s total downloads. The United States ranks third, with 165 million - around 8 percent of the total TikTok downloads worldwide.
President Trump is banning TikTok and WeChat (two Chinese social media platforms) based on his belief they pose a national security threat to the US. TikTok is viewed as a pawn to advance China's Military-Civil Fusion as a part of its national strategy to acquire the intellectual property, key research, and technological assets to further its economic and military goals. The two apps are also subject to 'mandatory cooperation' with China's Communist Party intelligence services. Trump's decision to ban TikTok and WeChat was not made in haste and was not a political power play.
A couple of key incidents led to the announcement today by the US Commerce Department detailing the ban. Firstly, TikTok has been pulled from the App Store in India, its largest global market. Then it was recently discovered that a beta version of Apple's operating system detected the app covertly accessing user clipboard storage cells on iPhones for key information that users wanted to save privately.
In addition to the risks noted above, the Commerce Department's communication also detailed the potential user identity theft threat and data mining capabilities of TikTok and WeChat. They cite how 'each [app] collects vast swaths of data from users, including network activity, location data, and browsing and search histories.' The US believes China has used its laws and regulations to coerce US companies to transfer valuable intellectual property to China's business market. Trump's ban on TikTok and WeChat is a statement that the US intends to defend its position as a global leader in technology and information security.
There's no question that Donald Trump's actions regarding TikTok and WeChat are politically motivated. With the presidential election nearing, this is the moment for incumbent presidents to enhance their profile with voters, and 'tough on China' is high on this incumbent's electoral agenda.
While many will assume banning these popular apps is payback against China for unleading what Trump has repeatedly referred to as the 'China virus,' what is happening here is campaign posturing. The Phase One Trade Talks with China did not go in the US's favor, with our country walking away with little more than China's usual empty promises.
Talks between the two nations have been delayed as part of a scheduled six-month review of the Phase 1 Trade agreement, signed in January. Intended to start on August 15, these were canceled due to tensions between the two countries.
But with Undersecretary for Economic Affairs, Ken Krach, following Health Secretary, Alex Azar, to Taiwan, it's unlikely China will be back at the negotiating table any time soon. China's historic tensions with Taiwan are not unknown to the White House, making this a provocative move as vital talks stall and international tensions rise. The US had not had diplomatic relations with Taipei since 1979 when it broke off ties in favor of Beijing.
Finally, by killing TikTok for the millions of American youth who have come to live and die by it, Trump is alienating an entire demographic cohort. Having already felt these young people's wrath, it's mystifying why he would try them again, right before the election.