The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States recently warned TikTok that unless its parent company, ByteDance, sold its stake in the company, CFIUS would block the app in the U.S. This is just another example of the United States expanding what it defines as national security. In recent years the U.S. has continually spread lies and abused its power to unjustifiably suppress Chinese companies. Throttling a business in such a brazen and unscrupulous way is no different from a smash-and-grab robbery.
This isn’t the first time that the U.S. government has cracked down on TikTok. Against a backdrop of hyping the “China threat” theory, the U.S. government has repeatedly used the pretext of “national security,” claiming that TikTok might hand over data to the Chinese government, and it has tried a variety of ways to bully TikTok into submission. In August 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order requiring TikTok to divest its U.S. operations. The Trump administration claimed at the time that the company stood to “threaten the national security.” In June 2021, President Joe Biden lifted the ban on TikTok but asked the Commerce Department to evaluate the company and act “as appropriate.” Some U.S. politicians have continued to claim that TikTok is a tool that China can use to threaten the U.S.
CIA Director William Burns has bizarrely claimed that TikTok’s popularity worries Washington because “the Chinese government is able to insist upon extracting the private data of a lot of TikTok users in this country and also to shape the content of what goes onto TikTok,” thus posing a threat to U.S. national security.
Although TikTok has said that it has invested $1.5 billion in the U.S. to launch Project Texas, storing the data of U.S. users at Oracle Corporation in Texas to meet data security requirements, this move has not been met with any generosity by the U.S., which has increased restrictions on TikTok. In February the White House told federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices and systems.
The U.S. government’s crackdown on TikTok has also been fueled by collusion between individual corporate executives and politicians. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been a key driver of political pressure on TikTok. He repeatedly claimed before Congress that the Chinese government has stolen technology from U.S. companies, and he has regularly played up the “China threat” theory. The underlying reason for that is that since its launch, TikTok has challenged Facebook’s market position around the world. Oracle founder Larry Ellison, a direct beneficiary of the crackdown on TikTok, has also repeatedly exaggerated the “China threat.”
U.S. pressure on TikTok follows a typically coercive pattern, featuring lots of U.S.-style ideological capture and allowing self-interest to triumph over open justice. The so-called market economy and fair competition are really only superficial. Governments and companies around the world should realize that TikTok is not the first company to have such an experience with the U.S. and will not be the last. Such domineering and aggressive behavior by the U.S. violates market principles and international norms. It will not only hurt TikTok but will also damage the business environment of the U.S. itself with inevitable long-term negative impacts on its economy.