The Cold War over TikTok Videos

The U.S. policy battle against the popular platform is an absurd response to the challenge from China.

An intense war may be raging in Ukraine, but China remains Washington’s greatest enemy. And the enemy’s most dangerous weapon consists of 30-second dance videos. At least, that’s the impression members of Congress from both parties gave during an hours-long hearing with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, who was interrogated like a war criminal on Thursday. Loyalty to Beijing, data theft, spying, destruction of American youth —the reserved manager from Singapore was accused of everything. The fact that it was the Chinese government rather than the private parent company ByteDance who ruled out selling TikTok hours before the hearing only increased mistrust surrounding ByteDance’s independence.

Whether Beijing can, in fact, access strategically valuable information through the popular video platform is hardly relevant here anymore. TikTok has become a symbol of the new Cold War between the U.S. and China.

But the way this fight is portrayed has just as much substance of a typical TikTok video. China is not as powerful as some claim, nor is there any apparent master plan for global supremacy. The authoritarian President Xi Jinping is a problem primarily for his people who are stripped of increasingly more freedoms, including the use of Western internet services. The demonization of TikTok is the most absurd answer to the challenge from China.

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