After India recently announced its decision to permanently ban 59 Chinese mobile apps including video-sharing app TikTok amid rising border tensions with China, TikTok is reportedly ending its business in India and making layoffs.
TikTok issued a statement on Jan. 27 that “given the lack of feedback from the government about how to resolve this issue in the subsequent seven months, it is with deep sadness that we have decided to reduce our workforce in India.”
Business Today, an influential magazine in India, obtained an internal company memo in which TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance told its 2,000-plus workforce in India that the firm would shut down its operations, due to the uncertainty of business prospects following the ban.
The magazine cited insider sources at ByteDance who said the staff in India will be reduced to “skeletal staff in select departments such as legal, administrative, human resource, accounts etc, to facilitate the settlements and engagement with the government,” according to Business Today’s Jan. 28 report.
Entrackr, a tech news site, cited anonymous sources who said ByteDance would lay off 1,800 staff in the next two weeks, leaving a core team of less than 250.
India was once TikTok’s largest market, with more than 200 million users in the country.
In late May last year, Sino-Indian relations worsened dramatically as face-offs and skirmishes took place between Chinese and Indian soldiers at the disputed border region of Galwan Valley.
On June 29 last year, India declared it planned to ban 59 Chinese mobile apps including TikTok over national security concerns.
The Indian government said in a press release that those applications were engaging in activities “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.”
Nearly one month later, the scope of the ban was expanded to another 47 Chinese apps that were variants and cloned copies of those banned in June.
In September the same year, 118 additional apps of Chinese origin were forbidden in India, including the search engine app Baidu Search.
About two months later, another ban was placed on 43 Chinese apps, including DingTalk Lite, a working platform created by Chinese tech giant Alibaba.
India TV provided a complete list of 267 Chinese apps banned in India as of Nov. 24, 2020.
The Indian government allowed the Chinese app developers to explain their standpoints in terms of privacy and security requirements and to answer a series of questions.
However, Indian authorities were not satisfied with their responses.
Recently, the two countries had border clashes again.
On Jan. 25, India’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology issued a new notice to permanently ban 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok and messaging app WeChat, according to Indian media reports.
On Jan. 28, the Chinese regime’s Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Gao Feng criticized the Indian government for enacting the permanent ban, urging New Delhi to help “bring the bilateral economic ties back to normal.”
The United States has also placed TikTok under scrutiny.
As early as Dec. 17, 2019, the U.S. Navy banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices, saying the popular short video app represented a cybersecurity threat.
In January 2020, the U.S. Army also declared a ban on TikTok from government-issued mobile devices.
Last year, former President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning TikTok, aimed at blocking Beijing’s access to large volumes of American data that could be exploited for intelligence operations and to enhance the regime’s artificial intelligence tools. The ban is currently in the midst of being challenged in the courts.
Trump also issued another order, compelling ByteDance to turn ownership of the U.S. app to American shareholders. Trump had approved a partnership deal in principle—TikTok would be allowed to continue operating in the United States and ByteDance would create a new company called TikTok Global, with U.S. companies Oracle and Walmart having stakes in the company.
On Sept. 18, 2020, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden said that TikTok was a “matter of genuine concern,” given its popularity in the United States and the potential for China to access U.S. user data. He also said that, if elected president, he would get cyber experts to “go into it deeply” to get the “best solutions” to deal with the risks associated with the app.
On Jan. 23, 2021, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated via Twitter that “I encourage the Biden admin to stick to its concerns about CCP [Chinese Communist Party] social media companies like TikTok, which put our personal data & nat’l security at risk.”
Frank Fang and Annie Wu contributed to this report.