Is TikTok supported by the Chinese government

New export rules China is raising barriers to selling TikTok

The race for the future of TikTok's business in the US is entering the final round. According to reports from the New York Times, there are currently two bidders in the final for the successful video sharing app: Microsoft, now flanked by the supermarket chain Walmart, and the software company Oracle. TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance is set to make a decision in the coming days.

But while a solution to the techno-diplomatic crisis is looming on the US side, China unexpectedly raised the hurdles: In a diplomatic maneuver, the Chinese Ministry of Economic Affairs updated a list on Friday of technologies that can only be sold abroad with approval . New on the list: data analysis and artificial intelligence. So two areas that TikTok is particularly proud of.

The state news agency also published an interview with a Chinese professor of international trade on Saturday. His interpretation: ByteDance probably now needs an export permit in order to be able to sell TikTok to a US company. Beijing apparently wants to have the final say on the matter.

In a fix between two superpowers

TikTok is the most successful app ever published by a Chinese company to date. It was already clear to the buyers who are vying to take over the US business that they were in the midst of a diplomatic dispute between two superpowers. Because the US government has been increasing the pressure on TikTok for weeks. Most recently, Trump had ordered that nobody in the US was allowed to do business with ByteDance and that the Chinese company had to separate from all US user data.

Now the dispute is escalating. Anyone who takes over TikTok despite the Chinese muscle games must now fear that they will mess with the Chinese leadership.

In a way, China’s leadership is taking on the ball that the US government has passed them. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had repeatedly referred to TikTok as a threat to national security over the past few months - a view that Trump later took up in his decrees against ByteDance. Now China is also making it clear that it regards the company and its technologies as security-relevant - and could prevent a sale in case of doubt.

Dominance in the digital space

Dennis-Kenji Kipker, a lawyer who researches international cybersecurity, says the move was foreseeable. "I was surprised anyway that the Chinese state stayed out of it for so long." Ultimately, China is not about the app or the Bytedance company, but about dominance in the digital space.

Fergus Ryan, who studies China's IT policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), says the measure could serve to give ByteDance better leverage for negotiations and thus drive up the price. "Most of all, it is fascinating that Beijing apparently regards the content of TikTok's algorithm as a question of state security."

It is unclear whether China will actually block sales of the app in the end. Should that happen, it would be a hard financial blow to ByteDance. TikTok is currently said to have 100 million active users in the USA, TikTok disclosed these numbers in a lawsuit against the US government. At the same time, the Chinese leadership would push Trump into a corner. Because if a sale should fail and the app actually thrown out of the app stores in the US, Trump would be the anger of US users: inside, for sure.

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About the author

Chris Köver

Chris Köver is a journalist. In her work, she researches the cross-connections between digital technologies and social justice, machine learning and discrimination, surveillance and gender - from an intersectional feminist perspective. Chris reports on all these topics for netzpolitik.org and also moderates the netzpolitik.org podcast from time to time. She gives lectures, moderates panels, gives workshops and is happy to share tips where you can see, read and hear other experts in these areas. Contact: email, OpenPGP, Twitter.
Published 09/01/2020 at 1:03 PM