Trump may keep squeezing China after robbing TikTok ahead of election

By Song Guoyou Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/21 20:47:43

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

Forced to respond to the Trump administration's arbitrary crackdown, and after rounds of tense negotiations, Chinese social media platform TikTok has potentially avoided a ban in the US or the prospect of being entirely stripped of its US operations. And while the potential TikTok deal with Oracle and Walmart can be seen as progress, it does not mean tensions between China and the US have eased. Inversely, Trump may yet further antagonize China as his re-election date in November draws near.

Relentlessly bullying Chinese tech firms has been one of Trump's main approaches in confronting China. TikTok is the international version of Chinese short-video platform Douyin and operates entirely outside of the Chinese mainland. After being taken by surprise and thrown into the spotlight by US authorities, TikTok has found it difficult to ignore such coercion.

The latest developments in the TikTok deal over the weekend drew global attention. After threatening to initiate a ban on TikTok downloads in the US from Sunday, Trump then gave the nod to the proposed deal between TikTok and two American companies, and postponed the ban.

Though the deal still needs to be approved by the Chinese authorities, TikTok's parent company ByteDance has preserved its core technology and control of the platform. These hard-won developments are thanks to the company's arduous efforts in the face of the unreasonable crackdown.

The deal also reveals the Trump administration's bullying for what it is - an attempt to leverage his interests rather than completely force out the company for its so-called threat to national security.

Moreover, the Chinese authority's firm stance to protect the lawful rights and interests of Chinese companies has prevented the platform from being bullied any further.

In early September, China's Ministry of Commerce revised its restrictions on technology exports, including AI algorithms, one of ByteDance's core technologies. Beijing on Saturday issued provisions for its highly anticipated Unreliable Entity List, which aims to penalize foreign entities and individuals that harm Chinese development interests.

The TikTok deal has prevented the worst-case scenario. However, multiple risk factors remain for the US to be able to stoke tensions ahead of the US election as Trump progresses in the polls.

Potential scenarios that may yet damage future bilateral relations include Trump's reckless provocation over issues such as the island of Taiwan, the South China Sea and others. The possibility remains that Trump may try to push China's limits in a bid to help his own election campaign.

Amid growing tensions, China has inclined to manage economic and diplomatic events separately. In the first eight months, the US remained China's third largest trading partner with total trade value reaching 2.42 trillion yuan ($358 billion), slightly down 0.4 percent year-on-year, and China's imports from the US increased 0.2 percent despite a contracting global economy.

However, if a Trump-led US ever crosses China's red-line, China-US economic and trade relations - a cornerstone of the overall bilateral relations - cannot be spared from damage either.

The author is deputy director of Center for American Studies, Fudan University.


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