Trump Widens China Tech Attack, Ordering Bans on TikTok and WeChat

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Trump Widens China Tech Attack, Ordering Bans on TikTok and WeChat.

By Saleha Mohsin, Shelly Banjo, Nick Wadhams, and Justin Sink

President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders prohibiting U.S. residents from doing business with the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat apps beginning 45 days from now, citing the national security risk of leaving Americans’ personal data exposed.

The bans mark a significant escalation by Trump in his confrontation with Beijing as the U.S. seeks to curb China’s power in global technology. With the U.S. election less than 90 days away, Trump is making his challenge of China a central theme of his campaign, where he trails Democrat Joe Biden in the polls.

Shares of WeChat’s owner, China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd., fell as much as 10% in morning trading and sliced almost $70 billion from its market value. The offshore yuan weakened as much as 0.45%, the most in two weeks.

“This is yet another watershed moment in the U.S.-China technology cold war here where the U.S. government is targeting these two very popular Chinese apps and basically saying they have national security problems,” said Paul Triolo, Head of Global Technology policy at Eurasia Group. “It shows the depth of the U.S. concern.”

The move coincides with Trump’s push for the sale of TikTok, the popular video app owned by ByteDance Ltd., to an American company. It threatens penalties on any U.S. resident or company that conducts transactions with TikTok, WeChat or their owners after the orders take effect.

“To protect our Nation, I took action to address the threat posed by one mobile application, TikTok. Further action is needed to address a similar threat posed by another mobile application, WeChat,” Trump said in the order against WeChat, released minutes after the TikTok measure.

While WeChat hasn’t been widely adopted in the U.S., the ban would still have broad implications because it’s used by more than a billion people and is central to business and social communications with China. The measure blocks all transactions involving WeChat but doesn’t amount to a broader ban on dealings with Tencent, according to a U.S. official. The order against TikTok blocks all transactions in which its owner, ByteDance, or subsidiaries have an interest, the official said.

Earlier this week, Trump threatened to shut down TikTok if its owners didn’t sell the business to a U.S. company by Sept. 15. Microsoft Corp. has been in talks about a possible purchase of TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

TikTok said in a blog post it is “shocked” by the order and will pursue all remedies available, including the U.S. courts. Tencent said it is reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding.

China said Friday that the U.S. was putting “selfish interests above market principles and international rules” and engaging in “political manipulation and oppression.”

“The relevant businesses follow market principles and international rules in conducting business operations in the U.S.,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily briefing in Beijing on Friday in response to a question about the bans.

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