Hard to say who will surprise you in the future, US or TikTok
Published: Aug 05, 2020 04:53 PM

Photo: VCG

ByteDance faces a catastrophe from the US, whereas TikTok, its subsidiary American firm, faces either a ban or a forced takeover. There is a lot of discussion about ByteDance now in China. Under the pressure of a big country, it is really difficult for a small company to make a choice. ByteDance's CEO Zhang Yiming and the whole company must be now in an unprecedented difficult moment. I am neither a marketing expert nor a strategist. But I just want to share a few of my intuitions with ByteDance's management team for the company's reference.

First of all, don't be afraid of Trump. This man is profit-oriented and ingrate. His only concern now is to win reelection. And people like him are always easily swayed by momentary gains and losses. 

Think about it: What does he want most now? What is he most afraid of? What he wants is a happy ending to his crackdown on TikTok, while what he wants to avoid most is a serious US public outcry over the outcome of the case. 

For Trump to have a happy ending, the absolute cooperation of ByteDance is indispensible. Although TikTok is unable to stand up to confront the US government, it has the ability to act surprisingly at some critical moments over key details so as to disrupt Trump's wishful thinking. Then it is possible to gain some degree of initiative power.

Is a surprise possible? I think so. ByteDance has been showing weakness. This has greatly increased Trump's arrogance that he has total control over the situation as well as the US society's expectation that ByteDance will be fully subdued while TikTok will be bought at a low price. 

Most Americans are already inclined to believe that Microsoft's acquisition will ultimately succeed. Microsoft also has a strong desire to make it happen. Trump's Monday statement that the US Department of the Treasury would take a cut of the deal also shows that he has had an ace up his sleeve and is ready to show voters the credit: He looted a fortune from the Chinese again and he is also Microsoft's savior.

This is a sign that ByteDance's opportunities are accumulating. The more the American community expects Microsoft to succeed with the acquisition, and the more Trump boasts, the more capital ByteDance has to cling to its own interests. ByteDance might take this strategy: Act soft on the outside but be hard on the inside, while striving to maximize benefits during the process of addressing this crisis - even against the backdrop of a very unfavorable environment for the company.

Over the TikTok case, there is growing negative public opinion against the Trump administration. Trump's election campaign is already in bad shape. The bigger the TikTok case is made, the more Trump needs an outcome that could be described as perfect to cozy up to the American people. 

This perfect ending is certainly not a shutdown. A shutdown would be a blow to the US' liberal democratic ideals. It would also anger a lot of teenage users as well as vloggers on TikTok who regard it as their careers. In addition, Washington has created expectations of a successful looting from purchase of TikTok. Over time, the US side's desire for a successful purchase and fear of shutdown of TikTok will grow stronger. All these will become weapons in the hands of ByteDance.

In addition to power, there exist rules and morals in this world. Although Trump's power can overwhelm rules and ethics, he has only fewer than three months left before the presidential election. People have a subtle perception of rules and ethics in their minds. Trump could thus lose votes due to any most slightly careless move. 

It's still hard to say which side will fear the other's surprising acts in the future.

The author is editor-in-chief of the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn