China to protect TikTok at ‘all cost’
Published: Sep 26, 2020 10:21 PM Updated: Sep 26, 2020 11:53 PM

TikTok. Photo: VCG

China is prepared to prevent Chinese firm TikTok and its advanced technologies from falling into US hands at all cost, even if that means the vastly popular video sharing app risks being shut down in the US, because allowing the US to seize the firm and its technology will not only set a dangerous precedent for other Chinese firms, but also pose a direct threat to China's national security, Chinese experts said on Saturday, a day ahead of a court battle in the US over a ban of the app.

A US judge is scheduled to rule on whether to push back the US government's ban on TikTok downloads, planned for Sunday, after the US Justice Department filed court documents to push for the ban. Though the judge might rule to temporarily block the ban, it would not change the US' ill-attempt to rob one of China's most globally successful apps and its advanced technologies, experts noted.

More importantly, for Beijing, the case goes way beyond just a mafia-style robbery of a lucrative Chinese business and cutting-edge technologies, but a threat to its national security, because the US could find loopholes in those technologies to launch cyber and other attacks on China and other countries to preserve its hegemony, the experts added.

Looming battle  

A US district judge is set to hear arguments on Sunday morning to determine whether to temporarily halt the US government's plan to ban new downloads and updates of TikTok starting Sunday night, after the US Justice Department moved to push for the ban with a new filing on Friday. 

In its filing, the US government asserted that Zhang Yiming, founder of TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance, is "a mouthpiece" of the Communist Party of China, and the company's "close relationship" with Chinese authorities endangers US citizens' security, NPR reported on Saturday. 

Such accusations are aimed at adding pressure on the Chinese firm to give up its business and technologies to US companies, Chinese experts said. The judge could rule to temporarily block the ban, like last week's ruling on WeChat. However, such a ruling would not change the fact that the US is doing whatever it takes to seize the Chinese firm and its technologies, and that a showdown with China is heating up, they noted.

"What the US wants, we definitely cannot give," Liu Chang, an expert at the China Electronics Standardization Institute, who follows the TikTok case closely, told the Global Times on Saturday. "From the perspective of both the company and the Chinese government, this cannot be allowed to happen."

Liu said the case is no longer about just losing the Chinese firm and technologies to US hands, but is related to China's national security. "If the source code is given to the US, the US could find loopholes in it, and use it to attack [China]… or any user of the software from anywhere around the world," Liu said, adding that China is stepping in to stop that.

Chinese officials are reviewing a proposed deal between ByteDance and Oracle and Walmart to form a partnership, under which the Chinese firm will maintain majority ownership and won't transfer its algorithm to the US companies. ByteDance officially submitted the plan to Beijing officials on Thursday, and the Chinese Commerce Ministry said that it would handle the case in accordance with laws and regulations. Under newly revised Chinese regulations, algorithm transfers are banned.

Chinese experts closely following the TikTok case said that China was unlikely to approve the plan, and will take all necessary measures to protect the Chinese business and technologies from the US robbery, even if that could cost the Chinese firm the US market.

No compromise  

"China will try its best to avoid compromising to US suppression," Qi Yue, a researcher at the China Cybersecurity Review Technology and Certification Center, told the Global Times on Saturday. "That would not be a good sign." 

Qi noted that the Chinese government may view the case differently from the company. "TikTok is a company, but if the US succeeds in this tactic, it would not be a good trend for our country," he said.

ByteDance appears to be moving forward with the restructuring plan with Oracle and Walmart, as it submitted the proposal to Chinese officials for review, despite widespread discrepancies in the information about crucial issues such as ownership and technology transfer, and a threat by US President Donald Trump to block the deal if it didn't give up full control.

The company is also making efforts to avoid a complete ban in the US and other markets through lawsuits, and apparently even compromising. In what experts call a mind-boggling move, a TikTok executive reportedly told the Australian government that the company will make its source code available for inspection.

"Some companies still hold an illusion about international commercial rules and moral principles in thinking that if they open up, they could gain trust. They have to realize that some countries are not just making accusations against you just for the sake of the accusations, but to slander the Chinese technology sector," Liu said. "Compromising to just get by… is definitely not a solution."

Given the profound national security implications involved in the TikTok's case, Chinese officials will not allow such a compromise by TikTok or any other company, experts noted. 

Standing up to Washington could also have global implications, because the US has a track record of seizing other countries' businesses that challenge its dominance in a certain sector, experts said. 

In the 1980s, the US attacked Japan's leading semiconductor company Toshiba with similar tactics. In one of the most recent and high-profile cases, the US also used long-arm jurisdiction to dismantle French conglomerate Alstom, whose main business was subsequently acquired by General Electric.

"The US has gotten used to doing this because it has won before… that's why we must unite with other countries or multinationals to stop this evil behavior," Liu said.