Users’ move to challenge US WeChat order not affected by fresh ban

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/19 1:48:53

WeChat Photo: VCG

The US Commerce Department's Friday announcement banning the use of WeChat and TikTok won't shake the resolve of an alliance representing WeChat users in the US that hopes to challenge the executive order targeting WeChat.

The US WeChat Users Alliance foresaw the possibility of the Commerce Department ban, and that "the department might even deliberately avail itself of legal loopholes," a spokesperson for the alliance told the Global Times on Friday. 

The alliance has insisted on taking the issue to court and will not give up before a court decision is made, the spokesperson said.

In an effort to challenge the ban targeting WeChat, a lifeline especially for the Chinese American community, the US WeChat Users Alliance was initiated shortly after President Donald Trump's executive order was announced on August 6. The alliance filed a motion with the federal court of San Francisco, seeking a preliminary injunction against the WeChat ban.

Two days ahead of the deadline previously set to determine the fate of the apps, the Commerce Department issued an order banning any transactions on Tencent's messaging app WeChat and the short video app TikTok in the US starting Sunday (September 20).

It will prohibit "any provision of service to distribute or maintain WeChat or TikTok mobile applications, constituent code, or application updates through an online mobile application store in the US," the US Department of Commerce statement said on Friday. 

The Commerce Department's prohibitions are not in accordance with an earlier announcement by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and are likely to conflict with an upcoming court ruling.

"At present, activity involving the WeChat app is not prohibited," the DOJ said in a filing on Wednesday responding to a motion by the US WeChat Users Alliance.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross doesn't plan to target WeChat users whose use or downloading of the app is intended to convey personal or business information and such users won't be subject to criminal or civil penalties, per the filing.

The first hearing on the request was held on Thursday. 

Judge Laurel Beeler said at the hearing that she is willing to temporarily halt the WeChat ban following requests by its users, according to Bloomberg News.

The Commerce Department's ban announcement could complicate the lawsuit, however.

The Friday announcement detailing the prohibitions confirmed the alliance's previous concerns, and accordingly the alliance's chief lawyer is urgently preparing supplementary materials to be sent to the San Francisco court, striving for the court to issue an injunction to halt the executive order and the Commerce Department's ban announcement, the spokesperson revealed to the Global Times.  

In light of the Friday announcement of prohibited WeChat transactions, "the pending motion for preliminary injunction appears mooted," according to the court, which is set to hold an emergency hearing at 11:45am Friday (Pacific Time).

Hao Junbo, chief lawyer at the HAO Law Firm in Beijing, told the Global Times on Friday that the statement by the US Department of Commerce aims to reduce the apps' functionality as social media platforms. 

"But from my understanding, the ban does not bar the messaging functions between WeChat users as a communication tool," Hao noted. 

However, the ministry specifically bans transferring of funds or processing payments through WeChat within the US, though such functions are commonly used between Chinese people. 

This will greatly impact American users who rely on WeChat to process payments, such as Chinese merchants or Chinese restaurants in the US, according to Hao, an expert on cross-border legal issues.

"The Commerce Department will not seek to compel people in the US to remove the apps or stop using them but will not allow updates or new downloads," Reuters reported Friday. The lack of updates will over time degrade the apps' usability, the report said, citing unnamed officials. 

Global Times 


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