Washington: US President Donald Trump has signed executive orders banning TikTok and WeChat, terming the popular Chinese apps a threat to the country’s national security and economy.
The ban comes into effect in 45 days, Trump said in two separate executive orders signed on Thursday.
India was the first country to ban TikTok and WeChat, citing national security concerns. India has banned as many as 106 Chinese apps, a move welcomed by both the Trump administration and US lawmakers.
“The United States must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security,” Trump said in his executive order. In his next executive order he said the country must take “aggressive action” against WeChat to protect America’s national security.
In a communique to the Congress, Trump said the spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in China continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the country.
Trump noted that these risks have led other countries, including Australia and India, to begin restricting or banning the use of TikTok and WeChat.
TikTok which has up to 80 million active monthly users in America – has exploded in popularity in recent years, mostly with people under 20.
TikTok, a video-sharing mobile application owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd, automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, Trump said.
This data collection threatens to allow the ruling Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information – potentially allowing China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage, he alleged.
TikTok also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive, such as content concerning protests in Hong Kong and China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. TikTok may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, the president said.
“To deal with this threat, the order prohibits, beginning 45 days after the date of this order, to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd., Beijing, China, or its subsidiaries, in which any such company has any interest, as identified by the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary),” Trump said.
He delegated power to the commerce secretary to take such actions, including adopting appropriate rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by International Emergency Economic Powers Act as may be necessary to implement the order.
The order also directs all department and agencies to take all appropriate measures within their authority to implement the order, Trump said.
In a separate executive order, Trump said WeChat, a messaging, social media, and electronic payment application owned by the Chinese company Tencent Holdings Ltd., reportedly has over one billion users worldwide, including users in the United States.
“Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users – threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” he said.
WeChat also captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives, he alleged.
“WeChat, like TikTok, also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive and may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party,” Trump said.
In recent weeks, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused TikTok of collecting personal information of Americans.
TikTok has previously stressed that its US user data is already stored on US-based servers and backed up in Singapore, and is therefore not subject to Chinese law as some US officials have feared.
Since Trump indicated last Friday to ban TikTok, tech giant Microsoft has said it is in talks to acquire the Chinese app’s US operations.
Trump said this week he would support the sale to Microsoft as long as the US government received a substantial cut of the sales price.
But he warned he would ban TikTok in the United States from September 15.
The US government took action last year against two Chinese communications giants, Huawei and ZTE, including locking them out of government contracts.
Trump has been waging an aggressive trade war against China and he blames Beijing for the global coronavirus pandemic, which has killed over 150,000 people in the country and crippled the American economy, ahead of this year’s presidential election.