WSJ: TikTok Fight Rocks U.S.-China Relations


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TikTok Fight Rocks U.S.-China Relations
Lawmakers press app’s CEO over Chinese ties at tumultuous hearing
By Ryan Tracy, John D. McKinnon and Georgia Wells
Updated March 23, 2023 6:29 pm ET

U.S.-China relations were dealt another blow as lawmakers at a House hearing pressed TikTok’s chief executive on the popular app’s ties to China, and as Beijing said it would fight any U.S. attempt to force the company’s sale by its Chinese owners.

The hearing Thursday, peppered with withering attacks on TikTok from both Democrats and Republicans, ran more than five hours and underscored growing concern about Beijing’s potential influence over the app. U.S.-China relations are already frayed over trade, Taiwan, technology and geopolitical rivalries.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, seated in front of U.S. TikTok executives and popular stars on the platform, sought to reassure lawmakers that the company would earn their trust.

“Our approach has never been to dismiss or trivialize any of these concerns. We have addressed them with real action,” he said.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D., N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued a blunt response to Mr. Chew’s claims.

“I don’t buy it,” Mr. Pallone said. The committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), called for banning the app, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.

The bipartisan skepticism further clouded the future of a platform that TikTok says is now used by 150 million Americans.

Hours before the hearing, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Commerce Ministry said it would “firmly oppose” the Biden administration’s recent demand that TikTok’s Chinese owners sell their stakes or face a possible ban. U.S. lawmakers pointed to that statement as evidence that the company was beholden to Beijing.

TikTok’s travails have put it at the center of strained ties between the world’s two great economic powers as they quarrel over issues including trade policy, surveillance and technological development. Washington has stepped up sanctions against Chinese companies, and Beijing has deployed regulatory enforcement and other pressure tactics against American businesses.

The resulting trade blacklists have swept up China-based telecommunications companies Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp., as well as U.S. defense contractors Lockheed Martin Corp. and Raytheon Technologies Corp.

“The TikTok battles are indicative of the end of an era,” said Lindsay Gorman, senior fellow for emerging technologies at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund, and a former Biden White House adviser. “This era where U.S.-China business relations can continue absent considerations of geopolitics is over.”

The U.S. concerns over TikTok have partly stemmed from increased involvement in business activities by the Chinese government. Under leader Xi Jinping, China’s party-state has adopted laws and regulations to ensure its access to data collected by private firms, and expanded efforts to influence corporate governance and decision-making.

China has also blocked U.S. social media and information sites including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and the Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook.

A fund backed by China’s cybersecurity watchdog holds a 1% stake in the core subsidiary of TikTok’s Chinese parent, Bytedance Ltd., a what is called “golden share” that gives the regulator a board seat at the subsidiary, voting power and sway over its business decisions.

Under questioning from Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R., Texas), Mr. Chew said that under the company’s security plan, TikTok’s data would be stored in the U.S. and controlled by a U.S. company, alleviating the concern.

Mr. Crenshaw responded: “I want to say this to all the teenagers out there and TikTok influencers who think we’re just old and out of touch and…. trying to take away your favorite app. You may not care that your data is being accessed now, but it will be one day when you do care about it.”

Mrs. Rodgers opened the questioning Thursday by asking Mr. Chew to state “with 100% certainty” that the Chinese government couldn’t use TikTok or ByteDance to surveil Americans or manipulate the content Americans see.

Mr. Chew said the company was committed to firewalling U.S. user data from “all unwanted foreign access” and would keep content “free from any manipulation from any government.”

“If you can’t say it 100% certain, I take that as a ‘no,’” Mrs. Rodgers shot back. “I have zero confidence in your assertion that ByteDance and TikTok are not beholden to the [Chinese Communist Party].”

In his testimony, Mr. Chew said TikTok is spending $1.5 billion to create the firewall of U.S. data, leaving “American data stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel.”

When that process is complete, he said, it should eliminate lawmakers’ concern that some TikTok user data could be subject to Chinese law—though he said engineers globally could access it as required for business purposes.

Asked about a possible sale, Mr. Chew said he didn’t think a change in ownership would improve safety and security, pointing to the privacy problems of U.S. tech platforms.

Mr. Chew also said the platform would work to ensure a safe environment for young people, another concern of committee members.

Rep. Bob Latta (R., Ohio) said TikTok had been insulated from legal claims arising from the death of a 10-year-old girl who had participated in a breath-holding challenge that was popular on TikTok. Mr. Latta questioned why TikTok should be protected by federal law shielding websites when it amplifies “dangerous and life-threatening content to children.”

Mr. Chew said that the platform has taken a number of proactive steps to better protect children—including measures that go beyond those employed by other platforms. Accounts registered to teens under 16 are set to private by default, and they also can’t send direct messages. Their content is ineligible for recommendation in the app’s popular “For You” tab. He said dealing with harmful content was an industrywide challenge.

Some lawmakers asked Mr. Chew if he agreed that China’s government has persecuted the Uyghur ethnic group, which U.S. officials have characterized as a genocide. Mr. Chew answered by saying content about that issue was available on TikTok.

After the testimony ended, TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said that political grandstanding had dominated the hearing, ignoring the solutions TikTok was working on to protect user data and keep content harmful to young people off the site.

The hearing shed little light on how Congress might address the numerous problems with TikTok that lawmakers highlighted.

Several bills are under consideration in Congress that would ban TikTok outright, typically by prohibiting U.S. companies from doing business with it. Some would also allow the government to ban or restrict other apps with ties to hostile foreign governments. Several lawmakers also urged renewed consideration of comprehensive privacy legislation.

An actual ban on TikTok faces practical and legal hurdles, and two federal judges struck down former President Donald Trump’s earlier attempts to do so. Any crackdown carries political risks, particularly for Democrats who tend to get more support from the younger people who are TikTok’s dominant audience.

Democrats appeared less inclined than Republicans to support an outright ban on the app, at least for now. Three Democrats appeared Wednesday with a group of TikTok stars to protest calls to ban the app. But a number of lawmakers from both parties expressed interest in a sale of TikTok’s Chinese ownership.

Rep. Lori Trahan (D., Mass.) said near the end of Thursday’s hearing that Mr. Chew had fallen short of gaining lawmakers’ trust. “To me, it hasn’t happened so far,” she said.

Rep. Randy Weber (R., Tex.) took a similar-sounding tone. “If this committee has its way,” he said, “TikTok’s time is up.”

-Lingling Wei, Stu Woo, Grace Zhu and Raffaele Huang contributed to this article.
Frustrated King Of The Hill GIF
Poor China.. if TikTok is banned all they will have left to track us with is every single device that they manufacture and we use on a daily basis (tvs, phones, computers, cameras, etc)! Or influence us using the millions of bots they have on facebook, twitter, instagram, etc..
Poor China.. if TikTok is banned all they will have left to track us with is every single device that they manufacture and we use on a daily basis (tvs, phones, computers, cameras, etc)! Or influence us using the millions of bots they have on facebook, twitter, instagram, etc..
Season 3 What GIF by On My Block
Poor China.. if TikTok is banned all they will have left to track us with is every single device that they manufacture and we use on a daily basis (tvs, phones, computers, cameras, etc)! Or influence us using the millions of bots they have on facebook, twitter, instagram, etc..
Is that why I am always craving Chinese food?
In my opinion, the way this bill is written in very problematic. The language in it could be used to ban various encrypted messaging apps and vpns.

While tiktok needs to be addressed, this is not the way to do it.