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 Biden's Decision on TikTok and WeChat a Welcome Surprise

By Tracy Qu

SCMP, June 13, 2020 



Reversal of Trump-era ban on popular Chinese apps shows an understanding that the world would obviously be better off with globalisation and cooperation

 Technology is a driving force of the United States’ rivalry with China. Photo: Reuters

Technology is a driving force of the United States’ rivalry with China and the competition is heightening. President 

Joe Biden’s decision to revoke bans  by his predecessor, Donald Trump, on the popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat therefore comes as a surprise.

Both had been considered national security risks and although suspicions have not gone away, the reprieve shows realisation of their benefits. Both are, after all, about communication and sharing and the door should never be shut on ways to improve global discussion and cooperation.

The order does not mean TikTok, an app for sharing short videos that is especially popular among younger smartphone users, and WeChat, software for text messaging, broadcasting and digital payments, will be free of scrutiny. Biden wants applications produced by firms in countries considered foreign adversaries to be reviewed to decide if they pose a risk to Americans.

Trump’s administration had accused both of being used by Beijing for spying on Americans through collecting personal data. Chinese cybersecurity laws require companies to be supervised by the government and pass on stored information as requested.

But no evidence of wrongdoing was ever provided; the apps’ owners, TikTok’s ByteDance and WeChat’s Tencent, denied the allegations. ByteDance stressed it would never violate the privacy of overseas users and that such data was stored on servers outside China.

There is also a valid counterargument – that the US’ Cloud Act has similar provisions, enabling authorities to issue warrants to access data on individuals from US companies and even foreign ones if agreements have been signed with governments. Apps owned by American firms such as Facebook and Google also mine personal data, mostly to build profiles of users who then can be sent targeted advertising.

No reason has been given for Biden’s decision. Chinese-Americans were especially critical of the bar on WeChat, which is widely used, and for many the only means to communicate with relatives in mainland China.

US business operations were also threatened , the app being one of the most popular Chinese digital payment systems. Being blocked from doing business in China through a ban would mean American firms would lose out to domestic companies and foreign competitors.

US failure to pay heed to innovation and creativity is why it is falling behind China. The realisation is the reason for a bill making its way through Congress authorising about US$250 billion in funding for technology research  and development.

The world would obviously be better off with globalisation and cooperation. Biden’s administration at least appears to understand the importance of communication with its decision on TikTok and WeChat.

Biden’s decision on TikTok and WeChat a welcome surprise | South China Morning Post (


US-China Tech war: TikToK, WeChat remain in Washington’s crosshairs after Biden revokes Trump’s orders

Joe Biden’s new executive order directed the US Commerce Department to assess, in the following six months, any apps associated with foreign adversaries The department will provide recommendations of actions needed to address the risks found at the end of the assessment

By Tracy Qu

Published: 7:38pm, 10 Jun, 2021

 US President Joe Biden on June 9, 2021 revoked executive orders from his predecessor Donald Trump, which sought to ban Chinese-owned mobile apps TikTok and WeChat over national security concerns.

The US operations of TikTok  and  WeChat  remain at risk, according to analysts, as President  Joe Biden  directed  a review of security concerns posed by these popular Chinese apps  soon after revoking his predecessor Donald Trump’s  executive orders, which sought to ban them .

“TikTok and WeChat are still in the crosshairs of the US government,” said Abishur Prakash, from Toronto-based consulting firm the Centre for Innovating the Future. “Depending on what the US finds, new action could be taken.”

Biden’s new executive order directed the US Commerce Department to assess, in the following six months, any apps associated with foreign adversaries of their potential national security implications and how American personal data is used.

The Commerce Department was asked to provide recommendations of actions needed to address the risks found at the end of the assessment. The agency was also directed to evaluate, on a continuing basis, transactions by software applications that may pose a risk for information and communication technology and services to operate properly in the US.

US President Joe Biden drops Donald Trump orders seeking ban on China’s TikTok, WeChat

At a press conference on Thursday, China’s Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng said Biden’s decision to cancel the Trump administration’s orders was “a positive step in the right direction”. 

Gao, however, indicated that the fate of hit short video-sharing platform TikTok and 

Tencent Holdings  super app WeChat in the US was still uncertain in light of the new security review that Biden has ordered.

Apart from TikTok and WeChat, Biden’s new executive order also revoked another one Trump issued in January that  targeted eight other Chinese apps , including  Ant Group ‘s Alipay and WeChat Pay. Ant is an affiliate of  Alibaba Group Holding , the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

The latest move by Biden is another sign that his administration is continuing the hardline approach to China taken by his predecessor. While the Biden administration is reviewing many of Trump’s China policies, it has not revoked much existing legislation or many orders – including tariffs levied on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese imports.

Earlier this month, Biden expanded a ban that prohibits Americans from investing in Chinese companies  that the administration says have ties to the Chinese military or sell surveillance technology used against religious minorities and dissidents.

The US, however, has not been able to completely cut itself off from Chinese technology. Last week, the US Department of Defence announced a reversal in their drone procurement policy that would allow two “Government Edition” DJI drones to be used by US agencies. 

SZ DJI Technology Co , the world’s largest drone maker, had been  banned by the US military since 2017  over security concerns. In 2019, the Department of the Interior also  grounded all non-essential Chinese-made drones .

For Chinese tech unicorn and TikTok owner ByteDance , Biden’s latest directive continues its roller-coaster ride in the US, months after the company  walked away from a deal to sell its American operations  to a group led by tech giant Oracle. Tensions between the US and China have also  set back ByteDance’s plans to go public .

“TikTok is not totally safe, and this is in effect a postponement to gain visibility on how best to extract value from TikTok as a political pawn caught up in the US-China competition,” said Lub Bun Chong, a partner of Hong Kong-based C Consultancy, “ByteDance needs to dance with the winds and make itself useful to both the US and China.”

Some TikTok competitors, such as Triller and Likee , have taken advantage of the app’s issues in the US. Still, TikTok installs jumped 35 per cent in May over the  previous month , continuing its streak as the  world’s most-downloaded non-game app , according to mobile market analytics firm Sensor Tower.

TikTok downloads jump 35 per cent in May, but down from peak last year 3 Jun 2021

To help its efforts to comply with both US and China directives, ByteDance is likely to expand TikTok’s presence in Singapore, according to analysts.

“The ideal neutral venue to do this is Singapore,” said Chong of C Consultancy. “Singapore has remained relevant all these years by dancing with the winds and making itself useful to both the US and China.”

TikTok’s new chief executive, Shou Zi Chew , is a native Singaporean who also serves as chief financial officer of parent firm ByteDance.

Biden’s latest move may help improve TikTok’s situation in the US, according to Dov Levin, assistant professor of international relations at the University of Hong Kong. 

“ByteDance should be able to already satisfy the key criteria described in [Biden’s] executive order in general, such as private ownership and general data collection practices in the US,” Levin said. He also suggested that the Biden administration’s tech policy remains under development and can “still shift and change in various ways”.


Tracy Qu is a Hong-Kong based technology reporter at the Post. She graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a master’s degree in journalism.

US-China Tech war: TikToK, WeChat remain in Washington’s crosshairs after Biden revokes Trump’s orders | South China Morning Post (


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