GT Voice: US’ hooligan nature laid bare in forced divesting of TikTok
Published: Mar 16, 2023 10:31 PM Updated: Mar 16, 2023 10:38 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

There has been an absurd development of the political farce surrounding the crackdown on TikTok, which has recently been playing out in the US and spreading to Canada and some EU countries.

The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok if its Chinese owners don't divest their stakes in the popular video app, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

Even though TikTok has tried its best and done almost everything possible within the technical range in response to the so-called national security concerns, it remains helpless in the face of Washington's economic vandalism. The message is clear: if Washington cannot see TikTok ending up in an American hand, it will shut it down. Judging by the various bans and legislation involving TikTok that US politicians have been working on, it is not impossible for the worst to happen.

Yet, the Emperor's New Clothes surrounding national security concerns cannot hide US politicians' selfish and hooligan nature. The US claims that TikTok threatens to undermine US national security, but there is no evidence at all supporting the killing or robbery of such a globally successful app on national security grounds. The fact that Washington can suppress and even rob TikTok without justification and only because it is owned by a Chinese company is the latest manifestation that in order to maintain the US hegemony, Washington can make any rogue behavior that is against the law and business rules. This could serve as a wake-up call to companies around the world about the political risks of doing business in the US. If they are successful enough to pose a real challenge to American business titans, a rogue government in Washington will start finding fault with them.

TikTok has been seeking various technical solutions to soothe the so-called national security concerns. For instance, it has committed to spend $1.5 billion on a plan known as "Project Texas," which would enact a stronger firewall between TikTok and employees of its Beijing parent company. It has also built what it called a Transparency Center in Los Angeles to help legislators and journalists understand how it safeguards data and how its algorithms work.

But what has happened to the company has laid bare that there is no way to play by the rules to address the US politicians' so-called concerns. This is because it is not national security issues, but TikTok's ability to challenge the supremacy of the US internet industry, that is what really upsets Washington.

With more than 1 billion active users, TikTok is the most downloaded Chinese app in the world last year. The US has 113 million active TikTok users aged 18 and above, and a 2022 Pew Research Center survey of American teenagers aged 13 to 17 found that 67 percent say they use the app, which would add up to about 17.4 million teenagers.

By comparison, the development of some American internet giants has been overshadowed. Facebook-parent Meta Platforms announced on Tuesday it would cut 10,000 jobs this year, marking a second round of mass layoffs following the first one in fall 2022. Since 2020, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has spoken out on several occasions about TikTok's threat to American values and technological dominance.

Of course, the US government's crackdown on Chinese technology companies has not only aimed to rob economic interests off Chinese companies, but also to curb China's high-tech development and to maintain the US technological and financial hegemony.

However, it should be noted that the fact that Washington cannot allow a Chinese company to have the potential to beat American internet giants in market competition doesn't mean China will allow its hegemony to rob Chinese companies of core technology. Behind TikTok's success is the rise of a new algorithmic technology, which is the representative of Chinese high-tech companies gaining an advantage in international markets.

When the former Trump administration tried to push through a forced sale of TikTok in 2020, China's Ministry of Commerce already made adjustment to its catalog of technologies that are subject to export bans or restrictions, which includes certain advanced information process algorithms. It goes without saying China will resist any bully-like robbery of Chinese companies' core technologies.