President Donald Trump has told US firms they have 45 days to stop doing business with TikTok and WeChat, claiming the Chinese apps are a threat to national security.
Mr Trump signed two executive orders targeting two of China’s biggest apps.
It is a major escalation in Washington’s stand-off with Beijing over its power in global technology.
The announcement comes as Microsoft is in talks to buy TikTok ahead of a 15 September deadline set by Mr Trump.
The executive orders against the short-video sharing platform TikTok – owned by Chinese firm ByteDance – and the messaging service WeChat – owned by the Tencent conglomerate is the latest measure in an increasingly broad Trump administration campaign against China.
Mr Trump’s orders are likely to be liable to legal challenges, analysts say.
Earlier on Thursday, Washington announced recommendations that Chinese firms listed on US stock markets should be delisted unless they provided regulators with access to their audited accounts.
What did Trump say?
In both executive orders, Mr Trump says he has found “additional steps must be taken to deal with the national emergency with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain”.
He adds: “The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
He refers to both apps as a “threat”. Both orders say any unspecified “transactions” with the apps’ Chinese owners or their subsidiaries will be “prohibited”.
The orders cite legal authority from the National Emergencies Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Mr Trump’s executive order claims TikTok’s data collection could allow China to track US government employees and gather personal information for blackmail, or to carry out corporate espionage.
He notes that reports indicate TikTok censors content deemed politically sensitive, such as protests in Hong Kong and Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority.
The US president says the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration (which oversees US airport screening) and the US Armed Forces have already banned TikTok on government phones.
ByteDance and Tencent have declined so far to comment.
WeChat ban puts US-China personal ties in peril
Zhaoyin Feng, BBC News Chinese, Washington DC
The TikTok ban is hardly a surprise, as the app has faced scrutiny in the US for months. But the almost identical ban on WeChat is more of a bombshell.
Immediately after President Trump’s executive order was announced, I received a flood of messages on my WeChat. Friends in America and their loved ones in China were in an absolute panic.
They are thousands of miles apart but asking the same question: How are we supposed to keep in touch after WeChat is banned in the US?
It’s nearly impossible to avoid WeChat for those who have any connections to China.
The billion-user app is like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, PayPal, Uber, and even Tinder, all in one ecosystem.
America’s move to block WeChat, a prominent example of China’s tech innovation, will be seen as an attack on its culture, its people and the state. It’ll enhance the popular view in China that Washington is unreasonably suppressing its biggest competitor in technology.
If the ban is fully enforced, it’d be a disaster for anyone who has families, friends or a business in China.
While tit-for-tat has become the new normal in US-China relations, this move will cut off virtually all people-to-people communication between the world’s two most influential countries.
What’s the background?
Since Mr Trump vowed last Friday to ban TikTok, tech giant Microsoft has said it is in talks to acquire the Chinese app’s US operations.
Mr Trump said this week he would support the sale to Microsoft as long as the US government received a “substantial portion” of the sales price – a demand that legal experts describe as highly unorthodox.
But he warned he would ban TikTok in the United States from 15 September.
The US government took action last year against two Chinese communications companies, Huawei and ZTE, including locking them out of government contracts.
Mr Trump has been waging a trade war against China and he blames the country for the global coronavirus pandemic, which has crippled the American economy, jeopardising the US president’s re-election prospects this November.
Meanwhile, many of the biggest US platforms – Google, Twitter and Facebook – are banned inside China.
What is TikTok?
The fast-growing app – which has up to 80 million active monthly users in America – has exploded in popularity in recent years, mostly with people under 20.
They use the app to share 15-second videos that often involve lip-synching to songs, comedy routines and unusual editing tricks.
These videos are then made available to both followers and strangers. By default, all accounts are public, although users can restrict uploads to an approved list of contacts.
TikTok also allows private messages to be sent but this facility is limited to “friends”.
The app is reported to have around 800 million active monthly users, with its biggest markets having grown in the US and India.
Though as Mr Trump notes in his executive order, India has already blocked TikTok, as well as other Chinese apps.
Australia, which has already banned Huawei and telecom equipment-maker ZTE, is also considering banning TikTok.
What is WeChat?
WeChat is very popular among those users who have connections to China, where major social networking platforms – such as WhatsApp and Facebook – are blocked.
WeChat is sometimes described as being a social network, but it’s really so much more – offering ways to make payments, run additional mini-programs, find dates and get the news, in addition to messaging and other social activities.
It is also viewed as being a key instrument in China’s internal surveillance apparatus – requiring local users who have been accused of spreading malicious rumours to register a facial scan and voice print.
But in addition, it is allegedly commonly used by the Chinese Communist Party to pump propaganda to the Chinese diaspora.
A seminar held earlier this year by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank discussed how groups within the app would be used to recommend holiday destinations, restaurants and the like on a day-to-day basis, but then switch to spreading political messages in line with Beijing’s thinking at critical times.
Trump’s ex-Russia adviser Fiona Hill: US increasingly seen as ‘object of pity’
“We are increasingly seen as an object of pity, including by our allies, because they are so shocked by what’s happening internally, how we’re eating ourselves alive with our divisions,” Fiona Hill, who was a witness in the Trump impeachment hearings, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Tuesday during the Citizen by CNN 2020 conference. “We’re the ones who are creating all this. It’s not the Russians or the Chinese or anyone else. We are doing this to ourselves.”
Asked whether the US is still seen as a model, Hill replied, “Unless we get our domestic act together, no.”
“What is really eroding our standing is what people are seeing happening here in the United States,” Hill, who was a national security adviser until she left the administration last summer, told CNN on Tuesday.
She said it’s the “bungled handling of Covid, on top of race relations, on top of our political polarization and the spectacles that we’re presenting to the outside world is what’s really pushing all of this.”
Hill said it would be “difficult” for NATO to survive under a second term of President Donald Trump, adding that the US needs to “revitalize our commitment to NATO.”
“Right now, most of our closest allies, not just partners and other major players, do not see the United States as leading. They see us as quite the contrary, as being so consumed with domestic problems that we really can’t do anything very much at all,” she said.
During congressional hearings in the 2019 impeachment inquiry, Hill warned that the Republican defense of the President — by peddling Ukraine conspiracy theories — was in danger of extending Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
House hits pause on spending vote as Hill leaders resume talks
Both Democrats and Republicans are eager to reach a deal to avert last-minute drama, though the two parties have squabbled for weeks over various funding and policy provisions in the continuing resolution, which would buy more time for negotiations on a broader spending deal.
“The talks continue, and hopefully we’ll reach an agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, though he did not comment when asked if he’d spoken with Pelosi.
Without a spending agreement, top Democrats and Republicans would find themselves exactly where they don’t want to be just weeks before the election — perilously close to the Sept. 30 deadline with no agreement to keep the government open.
A deal had appeared to be coming together on Friday, including tens of billions of dollars in farmer payments that Republicans sought in exchange for $2 billion in pandemic-related nutritional assistance that Democrats wanted.
But last-minute objections to the trade relief — including Democratic concerns that the president is leveraging the money to boost his reelection chances — tanked the talks. House Democrats ultimately released stopgap legislation on Monday that lacked both provisions, drawing the ire of McConnell, who tweeted that it “shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need.”
Both Pelosi and McConnell have been adamant about avoiding yet another government shutdown under President Donald Trump, and have supported a bill to extend funding through mid-December.
Senate Republicans on Monday said a lack of relief for farmers in the stopgap spending bill is problematic. But most stressed that it’s not worth shutting down the government in protest and said their side of the Capitol could still attempt to amend the bill.
“We could offer an amendment to try to put it back,” Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said of the trade aid on Monday. “Or we could vote against the CR. But I’m for running the government. I’d prefer to keep the government running.”
Asked if Republicans would be willing to spend more on food-related assistance in exchange for the farm aid, Shelby said Tuesday: “I’d listen to reason on that.”
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, slammed the lack of assistance for farmers. But when asked if Republicans would shut down the government without it, he replied, “No.”
As of Friday, Democrats had dropped a request that would extend the Census Bureau’s Dec. 31 deadline to turn over apportionment data used to divvy up House seats to the president — potentially punting the final handling of census data to Democratic nominee Joe Biden if he’s elected this November. Democrats had also failed to secure $3.6 billion in election security grants.
The GOP demands for farm aid, however, have emerged as a sticking point for many rank-and-file Democrats, who have been increasingly irate about Trump’s blatant use of farm aid for political purposes. That includes a campaign rally in Mosinee, Wis., last week, where Trump touted the taxpayer money as if it were a gift from him.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the No. 4 Senate Democrat and ranking member of the agriculture committee, this week criticized Trump’s use of the program as a “slush fund” and argued Republicans have been unwilling to agree to stricter guardrails around how the aid can be spent.
“This is not just a political fund for the election,” she said.
Helena Bottemiller Evich contributed to this report.
Nicola Sturgeon Has Banned Household Mixing In Scotland And Claimed English Measures Do Not Go Far Enough
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has banned household mixing (Credit: PA)
3 min read
Nicola Sturgeon has announced a ban on households mixing in Scotland, claiming experts say the restrictions introduced in England by Boris Johnson do not go far enough.
The first minister said the Scottish government’s top experts had warned the curbs announced by the Prime Minister on Tuesday would not make a big enough impact on Covid-19 transmission rates.
“The advice given to the Cabinet by the chief medical officer and the national clinical director is that this on its own will not be sufficient to bring the R number down,” she told the Scottish parliament.
“They stress that we must act, not just quickly and decisively, but also on a scale significant enough to have an impact on the spread of the virus, and they advise that we must take account of the fact that household interaction is a key driver of transmission.”
Mr Johnson has imposed a 10pm curfew on the hospitality industry from midnight on Thursday, as well as a legal requirement for those working in the sector, and in retail, to wear masks.
The PM stopped short of preventing different households from socialising with each other outside of local lockdown areas, but said people should work from home wherever possible.
Mrs Sturgeon said she planned to impose similar restrictions on pubs, bars and restaurants but would also go further.
“To that end, we intend as Northern Ireland did yesterday to also introduce nationwide additional restrictions on household gatherings, similar to those already in place in the west of Scotland,” she added.
Earlier in the Commons, Mr Johnson claimed the four nations of the UK were following “similar” restriction plans, despite Northern Ireland announcing on Monday that it would ban socialising between households.
This applies in places like pubs and restaurants as well as in people’s homes.
In Wales, people are not allowed to mix indoors with people outside their own household or support bubble, and meetings or gatherings indoors even within an extended household is limited to six people.
Reports suggest insiders were worried about the prospect of Mrs Sturgeon diverging and implementing a “circuit-breaker” of stricter measures – leaving the actions of Mr Johnson’s government further exposed should they fail.
Some members of the prime minister’s frontbench – including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Priti Patel – are believed to have lobbied for lighter intervention, while other cabinet ministers were in favour of a more drastic approach.
Mr Johnson told MPs: “I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March. We’re not issuing a genuine instruction to stay at home, we will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.”
He added: “We will continue to act against local flare ups, working alongside councils and strengthening measures where necessary.”