When the news broke yesterday that the Biden administration lifted Trump’s bans on TikTok and WeChat, tens of millions of teenagers cheered – as did President Xi and the communist leadership in Beijing.
Certainly no one noticed or cared that the lifting of the ban was accompanied by an executive order ordering a broad review of applications under the supervision of foreign opponents to determine if they posed a security threat to the United States. It will also ignore media attempts to suggest that such a review by the Ministry of Commerce could lead to an even broader crackdown on Chinese-owned applications, including TikTok.
Instead, this administration does not seem to understand the power of symbolism. Targeting TikTok and trying to shut down the app in the U.S. if the company is not placed under the control of U.S. owners, the Trump administration drew a clear red line regarding China’s manipulation of social media to steal data for its strategic purposes. The same was true with WeChat, the Chinese version of Twitter and PayPal. Now that line has been deleted. Instead, we have a bureaucratic “review” process that could have been established while maintaining pressure on TikTok and its parent company, Chinese high-tech giant ByteDance.
In two earlier columns, I explained why it is important to take TikTok.
The problem is not that TikTok users are revealing confidential information that affects our military or intelligence agencies, let alone confidential information. But the app collects data, a lot of it. Parent company TikTok ByteDance may provide that US user data to the Chinese government. Data has become a new crucial strategic commodity in the world. Whoever controls access to large masses of data has put his hand on the levers of power in the 21st century.
As I mentioned it in my earlier column, “An enemy that has the ability to screen and quickly recognize patterns containing billions of bits of seemingly unrelated data creates a far more dangerous perspective for our national security than any Rise of the Machines scenario commonly challenged by AI critics.” Although TikTok and ByteDance have denied any relationship with the Chinese government, any Chinese company may be ordered to hand over its data to the Chinese military or intelligence services, as a matter of law.
This is true for ByteDance and TikTok; this is true for WeChat; and especially applies to Huawei and the 5G networks it builds around the world, often with the help of the telecommunications companies of our leading allies.
When the Trump administration wreaked havoc on TikTok, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo highlighted “the national security risks posed by software linked to the Chinese Communist Party.” India, one of TikTok’s largest markets, which banned the app in June 2020, along with nearly sixty other Chinese apps, cited the same concerns.
TikTok was a symbolic battlefield on which the struggle for the protection of privacy and national security was fought. It now appears that the Biden administration has brought China the much-needed victory, following the furor over the origins of Coronavirus.
It is not clear why management gave in to this. Although Biden officials are sharply discussing dealing with Beijing’s arrogance and aggression and trying to convince us that in that case (for example, in extending Trump’s ban on Americans investing in Chinese companies with alleged ties to the Chinese military) their approach seems to be trying to work out. ” a comprehensive “Chinese strategy that is so broad that it will not harm Beijing’s feelings. This has implications for Biden’s first overseas trip this week. Instead of gathering our democratic allies to oppose China with the “Arsenal of Democracies,” as I called it, lifting the ban on TikTok and WeChat will send the opposite message: America does not accept China’s candidacy to transform the high-tech border from social media to 5G, in mass proprietary database, very seriously, and neither should you.
As I pointed out in my second column on TikTok:
“Defeating TikTok and WeChat are conflicts in a much bigger war, a war for the future of high technology. Our teenagers will survive without TikTok; our freedoms will not if we lose that greater conflict. “