US President Joe Biden on Wednesday (June 9) revoked an executive order during the period of former President Donald Trump that banned Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat in the US Operations.
This ban has never really taken effect due to a series of legal challenges.
But this does not mean that applications such as Titok have “passed”. Instead, there is a new administrative order under which the U.S. Department of Commerce will review applications designed and developed within the “foreign opponent’s jurisdiction”, including those in China.
Biden said that the authorities should adopt “evidence-based methods” to see if they pose a risk to US national security.
China’s Ministry of Commerce welcomed the decision on Thursday (June 10), calling it “a positive step in the right direction.”
New executive order
In his new executive order, Biden stated that the federal government should assess the threats posed by China-based applications and software through “rigorous, evidence-based analysis”, and should address “compliance with overall national security, foreign policy, and Any unacceptable or improper risks related to economic goals”.
He mentioned that applications can “access and obtain a large amount of user information.” “These data collections may allow foreign opponents to obtain this information,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the new executive order does not specifically target any companies, but requires the review of all software applications that have potential links with China and other state-owned countries. Therefore, the crackdown on Chinese-owned apps may even exceed the ban during the Trump administration.
TikTok has a large user base in the Americas and Europe, with an estimated 700 million monthly active users. Currently, about 80 million Americans use TikTok every month. WeChat has a huge influence among Asian Americans.
Biden’s executive order also revoked a ban that affected Alipay, WeChat Pay, QQ Wallet and Tencent QQ during Trump’s tenure. The ban was signed shortly before Trump stepped down in January this year to prohibit them from trading in the United States.
Ashley Gorski, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), welcomed the decision to overturn the ban.
“President Biden is right to revoke these executive orders of the Trump administration. These orders flagrantly violated the rights of TikTok and WeChat users in the United States under the First Amendment,” she said.
“The censorship of these and other apps by the Ministry of Commerce cannot lead us down the same path and become a smokescreen for future bans or other illegal actions.”
According to a White House fact sheet, Biden’s new executive order requires applications such as TikTok to take accountability measures, including “reliable third-party audits” for possible security risks to the applications.
The White House also stated that the review will involve applications that may be used to support military or espionage activities of foreign opponents, or may be used to collect sensitive personal data.
TikTok and WeChat did not comment on this news.
What happened to TikTok and WeChat
TikTok is a short video application that has become quite popular among young people around the world in recent years. It is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance. WeChat is a multi-functional application based on online chat, owned by Tencent.
In 2020, the Trump administration ordered the prohibition of downloads and updates of Tiktok and WeChat within the United States, and required TikTok to either sell its US business or shut down operations.
The White House accused TikTok of “a threat to the national security” of the United States. U.S. politicians and officials also expressed concern that the personal data of users of the app may be passed on to the Chinese government, but TikTok denies allegations that it will share user data.
Beijing accused Washington of “generalizing the concept of national security” and making “presumptions of guilt” against the companies concerned without any evidence. The official media said it was tantamount to “robbery.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson also expressed the hope that the United States would “provide an open, fair, just, and non-discriminatory business environment” for investment operators and stop politicizing economic and trade issues.
At that time, there was news that Oracle and Walmart would acquire TikTok’s US business. These companies may be responsible for handling TikTok’s user data and content review in the US.
But on a practical level, the restrictions on TikTok and WeChat have hardly been implemented successfully. After a group of US WeChat users sued the Trump administration for a ban that violated the spirit of the First Amendment, in September last year, a San Francisco district judge ruled that the ban on WeChat was suspended.
The judge believes that the government ban “restrains speech more than it is necessary to serve the vital interests of the country from the perspective of national security.”
A few hours before Trump’s ban on TikTok downloads took effect, another judge of the District Court for the District of Columbia also issued a ruling, halting the decision of the US authorities.
Subsequently, due to other lawsuits and Trump’s defeat in the general election, the ban and the acquisition plan of American companies were fruitless.
In contrast, TikTok’s dilemma in India, another major market, is more direct. India also banned this app last year on the grounds of national security. TikTok, which was once popular with Indians, later announced that it would terminate its Indian business and would lay off its staff significantly, leaving only the core team.
Sino-U.S. technological confrontation
Despite the change of ownership of the White House, the confrontation between China and the United States in science, technology and national defense has not stopped, and there is even a trend of expanding the front.
U.S. President Biden signed an executive order last week to expand the blacklist of Chinese companies that ban U.S. entities from investing in the defense or surveillance technology industry, bringing the total number of Chinese companies that ban Americans from investing to 59.
China Telecom, China Mobile, Huawei, surveillance equipment manufacturer Hikvision, and chip manufacturer SMIC are on the list.
The US authorities also hope to resolve supply chain issues to reduce dependence on China. The US Senate approved a bill worth about $250 billion on Tuesday (June 8) aimed at winning competition with China by increasing investment in research and development in the field of science and technology.
Next week, President Biden will meet with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The two are expected to announce a partnership around technology and trade in an attempt to curb China’s rise as a technological superpower.
This partnership is likely to include the development of joint standards around emerging technologies, and a commitment to take firmer action to regulate the Internet and take action on serious supply chain issues that arise during the COVID-19 pandemic.