The Reasons behind Trump’s TikTok Battle

The U.S. president is planning to banish the Chinese app. A takeover by Microsoft may hinder that. This threat symbolizes the difficult relationship between the countries.

President Donald Trump has found a new enemy: The U.S. president intends to ban Chinese video platform TikTok. The app is used regularly by 100 million people in the U.S. alone, and Microsoft has expressed interest in an acquisition. TikTok is especially popular with teenagers. Some young adults, who will be able to vote for the first time in November, told NBC reporters that they would vote against Trump because of the threatened ban.

Others suspect that the U.S. president wants revenge. In June, many seats at Trump’s Tulsa rally remained empty. TikTok users had made fake ticket reservations beforehand and did not turn up.

There are in fact many videos on TikTok making fun of Trump. The reason TikTok has attracted the president’s attention is, however, more political than personal. In most polls, Trump is lagging behind challenger Joe Biden. The COVID-19 pandemic is also now raging through those states where Trump’s most loyal supporters live.

Trump is always attacking China, where the disease first appeared, and speaks of the “China virus.” He also took a hard line on China during his first election campaign in 2016. Voters from the so-called Rust Belt, the former industrial region, blame the competition from Asia in particular for the economic decline and loss of jobs. Trump intends to take advantage of their resentment once again.

Moreover, there are reasonable concerns that TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, could grant the Beijing government access to its Western users’ data via the app. Trump also points out this risk. If a U.S. company were to take over TikTok’s business in the United States, however, then the app could continue to exist there. Therefore, ByteDance has been trying for a long time to separate its international platform from the Chinese version. There were already reports in the U.S. media about Microsoft’s interest on Friday, to which Trump expressed his disapproval and reiterated his intention to ban the app. Now Microsoft has officially spoken out for the first time.

’Chimerica’ Is Coming to an End

However, the dispute over TikTok is mainly just a further escalation of the China-U.S. conflict that is continuously worsening. Almost two weeks ago, Trump’s administration ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston — a symbolic act, since the opening up of communist China began after former Chinese party leader Deng Xiaoping visited the Texan port city in 1979.

The pictures of the Chinese head of state at the rodeo wearing an enormous cowboy hat were seen around the world. It was above all the trade deal, signed at the time by both nations, that would make lasting change to the world economy. In 1979, U.S. imports and exports with China totaled $4 billion. In 2017, before Trump’s trade war with Beijing escalated, the bilateral trade flows were $600 billion.

The economic relationship between the two nations became so symbiotic that British historian Niall Ferguson coined the term “Chimerica.” Without this relationship, Apple’s business model, for instance, would be unthinkable. The tech company develops its products in the U.S. and has the iPhone, among other things, produced by subcontractors in Asia. Additionally, China is the most significant consumer of U.S. farming products.

China Relies on a Strong Economy

In addition to the supply chain, the U.S. is also closely entangled with China financially: The Chinese central bank is the largest foreign creditor of the United States. Over the last few decades, China has bought more than $1 trillion of U.S. government debt. However, disillusionment set in for U.S. businesses long before Trump. The Chinese stole blueprints and know-how and did not keep their promise to grant the U.S. economy access to the Chinese market.

The belief held by Western industrial nations that a commercial opening of China would eventually transform the country into a democracy would also prove to be an illusion. Last year, Xi Jinping was appointed head of state for life. Since then, critics and minorities such as the Uighur Muslims have been even more brutally oppressed and mistreated. Despite protests from the West, China is dedicated to abolishing Hong Kong’s liberal special status.

Xi’s weak point is the economy. He needs a strong economy in order to keep the younger generation in particular calm. This is where Trump’s administration gets involved, with the trade war, the Huawei ban and the possible ban of TikTok and its chaotically colorful video cosmos. The separation of Chimerica will be bitter, and it will not spare the Europeans. We can only hope that it will be fought out economically, not militarily.

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