Biden revokes ban on TikTok and WeChat but broader review signals a tough battle ahead
Published: Jun 09, 2021 10:47 PM
WeChat TikTok Photo:VCG

WeChat TikTok Photo:VCG

The Biden administration revoked on Wednesday a Trump executive order to ban TikTok and WeChat but called for a broader review on a number of foreign-controlled applications that could pose a security risk to Americans and their data.

The move happened just one day after the US Senate passed an innovation and competition bill to address the China tech threat. Insiders noted that this measure looks promising for TikTok and WeChat and Chinese communities in the US but the intention to curb the growing influence of Chinese technology companies has never changed. They also warned that Chinese firms may face a tough battle ahead. 

"We are pleased with this new development because we have achieved the original goal of protecting the right of use of WeChat for everyone in the US," Clay Zhu, founding member of the US WeChat Users Alliance, and one of the lead attorneys on the WeChat lawsuit, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"I don't think that the US government has a chance of winning in court," Zhu said, noting that withdrawing the WeChat ban is the right decision for Biden.

The White House said the order would replace bans issued last year under the Trump administration on Tencent's WeChat, a messaging app, and ByteDance's video-sharing app TikTok, as well as other related apps like Alipay, CamScanner and QQ Wallet that have been blocked by US courts.

"The order develops further options to protect sensitive personal data, address the potential threat from certain connected software applications and provides criteria for identifying software applications that may pose unacceptable risk," the White House said in a statement on Wednesday. 

The latest announcement of the lift of the ban along a call for a broader review, sent mixed signals and stirred concerns over more uncertainty for Chinese businesses, although it resonates with those calling for more trust building between China and the US.

"Biden killed two birds with one stone," Hu Qimu, Chief Researcher at the Sinosteel Economic Research Institute, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Hu said the order overturned Trump's decision and, to some extent, protected the business interests of TikTok's American partners and ensured their support. However, a wider scope of investigation on apps tied to foreign adversaries is actually a continuation of Trump's hostility toward China to block and crack down on Chinese high-tech industry under the guise of national security.

The Trump administration issued in August 2020 an executive order blocking all US deals with TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance after 45 days, citing alleged national security concerns, together with a parallel order to ban any US deals with Tencent, operator of the Chinese messaging app WeChat.

The Biden administration placed a hold on proceedings involving the TikTok ban on February 10 at a US court, and on February 11 halted the former Trump administration's ban on WeChat, according to media reports.

The replacement meant that the previous victory hard won by Chinese firms in the US court will be futile since they need to reevaluate the situation now and prepare to fight a tough battle, observers that closely follow the matter told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The revocation sends a signal that the Biden administration is weighing the true interest of his country over unwise ideologically motivated sanctions on Chinese businesses, Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based independent tech analyst, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

He cited TikTok's parent firm ByteDance, the Chinese star of tech innovation in the US, which has created many local jobs and resonated strongly with American users and businesses.

Similarly, companies like Tesla and Apple have benefited substantially from their presence in the Chinese market which has turned out to be a boost for their Chinese suppliers as well, the analyst continued. "Instead of grappling with opposition and disputes, [the two sides] ought to mend the rift and strive to reach a consensus," Liu said.

China on Wednesday harshly criticized the US Senate's approval of an innovation and competition bill, saying that the legislation is full of Cold War mentality, grossly interferes in China's internal affairs and is doomed to fail, urging Washington to halt the legislation to avoid further damaging China-US relations and cooperation. 

Last week, Biden signed an order amending a ban on US investment in Chinese companies which started under his predecessor, naming 59 firms with ties to China's military or in the surveillance industry, including Huawei Technologies and the country's three biggest telecommunications companies.

The ban on new investments will take effect on August 2. Investors will have one year to  retrieve their investment.