President Donald Trump on Aug. 6 ordered a stop to all U.S. transactions with Chinese companies ByteDance and Tencent, effectively banning their popular developed apps TikTok and WeChat from the country. The ban will take effect in 45 days.
The Chinese regime responded angrily the following day, while Chinese users in the United States pondered what would happen to their transactions and communications with mainland China.
Spokesman for China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry Wang Wenbin said at an Aug. 7 press conference that Trump’s decision was “using state power to suppress non-U.S. companies unreasonably. It’s obviously bullying.” He repeated the statement twice.
Wang did not mention that the Chinese regime bans international websites, apps, and internet platforms from operating within its borders, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Wikipedia, and Line. He also did not speak about Chinese authorities’ exclusion of foreign companies from their strategically important sectors, such as oil and gas, banking, and railways.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s mouthpiece People’s Daily published a commentary on Aug. 7, stating that Trump wanted to “kill off” TikTok with his intent of having an American company purchase its parent company, ByteDance.
Nearly all major Chinese media outlets, including the private-run ones, reposted the commentary.
Trump has given TikTok a Sept. 15 deadline to find an American buyer, or else face a complete ban. But he has never expressed intent to compel its Chinese owner to do so.
Meanwhile, pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong speculated whether Beijing would retaliate by not allowing Apple to supply WeChat on its App Store in mainland China. They quoted economists and estimated that iPhone sales would drop dramatically as a result—as many Chinese in the mainland rely on WeChat. In addition to being a messaging app, it also has e-wallet and banking features. The app is commonly used to make financial transactions in China.
China expert Gordon Chang noted that though the Trump administration has taken quickening actions to address threats posed by the Chinese regime in recent weeks, Beijing’s response has been muted.
“China has screamed and yelled, but essentially has not retaliated,” Chang told NTD, an affiliate of The Epoch Times.
“Maybe they’re waiting for the August 15 meeting to talk about the phase one trade deal before they actually act. But right now, Beijing has been unusually quiet,” said Chang, who is also the author of “The Coming Collapse of China.” The two sides were scheduled to meet this month to discuss progress on fulfilling obligations in the trade deal, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Because the Chinese regime bans nearly all international social media and communications platforms, overseas Chinese can only use WeChat and other Chinese-developed apps to communicate with their loved ones back home.
Overseas users also heavily use the app’s online banking function to transfer money.
Chinese media reported on Aug. 7 that overseas Chinese were worried that their WeChat accounts might be closed soon, and began arranging their friends or relatives in China to transfer cash into their WeChat accounts.
It’s unclear to what extent the executive orders, which go into effect in 45 days, would impact WeChat’s business and whether Tencent’s large fleet of investments in the United States and other parts of the world would come as collateral.
In the mainland, some WeChat users have started to share backup contacts for a limited number of apps that are still available in China. Others plan to do what they do at home to get around the “Great Firewall,” as the blockade of foreign apps and websites in China is known, by using virtual private networks (VPN) that mask a user’s identity on a public network.
Tencent, a company headquartered in southern Shenzhen city, has a total of 1,004 apps under its ownership—most of them are mobile games.
According to Sensor Tower, Tencent’s mobile app revenue was $447 million in July 2020, including $427 million for iOS apps and $21 million for Android apps.
Reuters contributed to this report.