On August 7, US President Donald Trump signed two executive orders that will prohibit TikTok and WeChat from operating in the country within 45 days, unless the Chinese parent companies sell them to US companies.
Orders that will prohibit “all transactions by any person or with respect to any property, subject to United States jurisdiction,” with ByteDance Ltd in the case of Tiktok and Tencent Holdings Ltd in the case of WeChat.
While ByteDance is in negotiations with Microsoft for the purchase of TikTok, WeChat is likely to face a direct ban as it is unlikely that Tencent will sell the application to a US company.
Both applications have been widely criticized by the Trump administration, which mentions “national security” reasons as relations between the United States and China are becoming increasingly hostile.
Most Western social media and apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram are blocked in China, but WeChat remains an important channel for business and social communication between mainland Chinese and their overseas contacts.
A total ban could force them to establish other channels for future communication. In a single day, the messaging app LINE saw a 213% increase in downloads after the news of the WeChat ban. Small businesses that rely on WeChat ad revenue could also be affected if American banks prohibit transactions with Tencent.
While many in the West have criticized Trump's move because it violates freedom of speech and distracts from more pressing internal problems, some Chinese dissidents abroad view the decision with positive eyes.
For example, on Twitter, anonymous mainland Chinese user @ ayanami789 tweeted:
微 信 被禁 之后 ， 可以 让 境外 华人 远离 党 的 洗脑 网络 ， 开始 接触 新 的 世界 ， 多 好。
– 七 濑 ⁷⛩️Ω-7 型 自动 冲 塔 少女 🎀 (@ ayanami789) August 7, 2020
Banning WeChat could free overseas Chinese from the Chinese Communist Party's brainwashing ring. They would begin to explore the new world. It's great.
Chinese political cartoonist Badiucao also defended the ban in a series of tweets:
Wechat surveillance controls and manipulates its users regardless where about and nationalities.
It is the most important mean for Chinese government to export its propaganda and censorship beyond its soil (…) tolerating WeChat like apps create a paradox for free speech.
and because its made in China, its technically not possible to fix or regulate it either (…)
App like WeChat is like a mobile “Great Fire Wall”.
it changes people ’habit of free speech via its user attachment with Chinese market.
Banning WeChat will push people seek alternatives inside and out China
WeChat surveillance controls and manipulates its users regardless of where they are and their nationalities.
It is the most important means for the Chinese government to export its propaganda and censorship beyond its land (…) if we tolerate applications similar to WeChat it creates a paradox to free expression.
And because it is made in China, in theory it is not possible to fix or regulate it (…).
An application like WeChat is like a mobile “Great Firewall”.
It changes people's free expression habits through their relationship with the Chinese market.
Banning WeChat will have some looking for alternatives inside and outside of China
TikTok, a mobile application for videos, has been downloaded 175 million times in the States and has received criticism for automatically collecting location data and digital traces, such as browsing history and shopping lists.
In November 2019, the app closed the account of an American teenager after she highlighted the Chinese government's human rights abuses in Xinjiang in a makeup tutorial. Later, TikTok reactivated the account and apologized for what it said was a “human moderation error.” A report by the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy argues that ByteDance has an “active role in spreading state party propaganda on Xinjiang.”
For its part, WeChat is a multifunctional mobile application that offers various services such as news broadcasting, subscription, electronic payment, messaging and online shopping. It has had many complaints that the app monitors and censors private conversations, leaks content at the request of Chinese authorities, and has deleted content posted by politicians in Canada and Australia who used the app to contact their Chinese constituents abroad.
Trump's executive order is his administration's first concrete measure since Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's announcement of the expansion of the Clean Net Program on August 5. The program is intended to prevent access to the US market to telecommunications networks, applications, mobile device manufacturers and cloud hosting services, and cables abroad from the “unreliable People's Republic of China,” as the statement says. press.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin criticized Trump's move as violating “free market principles” and urged Washington to “correct the mistakes.”
Stephen McDonell, BBC China correspondent, suggested that the official Chinese reaction was ironic given that several US apps have been blocked in China for years:
From today’s #China Daily: With Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube etc etc all blocked here I don’t know how they can put the paper together with a straight face. The #US has “abused national power to suppress and contain high tech enterprises”… “violates fair competition”. pic.twitter.com/yfO2uA9yrp
– Stephen McDonell (@StephenMcDonell) August 7, 2020
From today's China Daily: With Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube and so on blocked here, I don't know how they can put together the newspaper with such cheek. The United States has “abused the national power to suppress and contain high-tech companies” … “violates fair competition.”