Biden Reverses Trump’s Steps to Ban TikTok and WeChat

ABC Technology / AFP

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President Joe Biden revoked the decrees of his predecessor, Donald Trump, which sought to ban Chinese-owned mobile applications in the United States TikTok Y WeChat on national security grounds, a decision Beijing welcomed on Thursday. A White House statement said that instead of banning these and eight other Chinese apps, the Biden administration called for “rigorous evidence-based analysis to address the risks” of internet social media platforms controlled by foreign entities.

Biden’s order is intended to identify any “connected software application that may pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States and the American people,” the statement said. That includes “applications that are owned, controlled or operated by individuals that support military or intelligence activities of foreign adversaries, or that are involved in malicious cyber activities, or that involve applications that collect sensitive personal data.”

The decree asks various federal departments and agencies to develop guidelines “to protect sensitive personal data (…) including personally identifiable information and genetic information.”

In an unusual sign of détente between Washington and Beijing, the Asian giant welcomed “a positive gesture in the right direction”, in the words of the spokesman of the Ministry of Commerce, Gao Feng. Gao pointed out, however, that the Biden administration’s decision also involved the opening of an investigation. “We hope that the United States will treat Chinese companies fairly and refrain from mixing politics and trade issues,” he said.

It is estimated that TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, has about 1 billion users worldwide, including more than 100 million in the United States, and is especially popular with young smartphone users. WeChat, which is part of the Chinese tech giant Tencent, is a very popular app in China that includes messaging, e-commerce, and much more.

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The text of the presidential decree gives a within 120 days so that the heads of the departments of Commerce, State, Defense, National Security and the director of National Intelligence issue a report with recommendations. Trump had said that Chinese-owned apps posed national security risks and had tried to force the sale of TikTok to American investors.

The former president accused WeChat and TikTok of collecting confidential data and sharing it with the Chinese government. These companies have always denied these espionage accusations. Following Trump’s first executive order, in August 2020, a legal battle began. In late December, the Trump administration appealed a court ruling that prevented the Commerce Department from imposing restrictions on TikTok, which would have prevented its operation in the United States.

But in February, the Biden government asked the Court of Appeals to give it 60 days to study the case and rule on whether or not to uphold the petition. The White House did not specify whether the decree issued Wednesday nullifies all the appeals.

According to a Biden government official consulted by AFP, TikTok remains subject to separate scrutiny “through CFIUS,” the Treasury agency responsible for ensuring that foreign investment does not pose a risk to national security. These decisions show that Biden has no intention of easing the pressure on China.

Last week, the White House tenant expanded the list of Chinese entities in which Americans are prohibited from investing. To do this, it amended a Trump decree to include Chinese companies involved in surveillance technologies that could be used not only in China against the Muslim minority Uighurs and dissidents, but also around the world.

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