Chinese State Media: ‘Defiant’ TikTok Refuses to Sell Operations

'LOL!': China's informal, confrontational Twitter diplomacy
AFP/Noel Celis

China’s state-run Global Times on Thursday praised “defiant” ByteDance, parent company of the video microblogging platform TikTok, for refusing to sell full control of the platform to an American company to avoid getting banned by the Trump administration.

The Global Times cannot admit that the real problem with TikTok is that, like all Chinese systems, it is subject by law to control by the Chinese military-intelligence apparatus and it harvests a troubling amount of data about its users. Instead, the newspaper asserted that the controversy is “elusive” and “extremely complex.”

The article praised the Chinese government for its “low-key but firm measures to protect its technologies and companies,” as if China were the victim of technology theft rather than the worst perpetrator in human history, and saluted ByteDance for trying to make a “reasonable deal” with an American partner but refusing to hand over total control of TikTok.

The Global Times rounded up some “Chinese experts” to theorize that Trump might have a “limited hand” to force the sale of TikTok despite his “tough” talk:

“Failure to reach a deal at the moment means the failure of Trump administration’s relentless crackdown on Chinese firms. Now the best way out for Trump is to accept the deal even if he might put forward some revisions on the current plan,” Ma Jihua, a senior analyst in the internet industry who has been closely following the TikTok event, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Ma noted that the partnership deal is the most reasonable one the Chinese firm can offer and that is also where the firm’s bottom line basically lies, Ma said, noting that shutting down TikTok in the US would be a lose-lose situation for all parties.

Technologies like algorithms are crucial to TikTok assets and the company will not sell them under the current circumstances, which means that ByteDance and its board members led by founder Zhang Yiming have been prepared if the partnership proposal with Oracle is blocked by the Trump administration, according to Ma.

The Global Times concluded by speculating that “dovish voices” in the Trump administration might prevail and come to a reasonable agreement with ByteDance because, as another handy Chinese expert darkly intimated, American tech firms recovering from the Wuhan coronavirus slowdown will be reluctant to lose access to China’s huge consumer market if Beijing retaliates against a TikTok ban.

The day after the Global Times published this editorial, the U.S. Commerce Department banned all transactions on TikTok and WeChat, another suspicious social media platform, to “combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data.”

Citing national security concerns, the Commerce Department order blocked all further downloads of TikTok and WeChat software from U.S. app stores. It was not clear if the order would permanently scuttle the prospective deal between ByteDance and Oracle Corp. for the latter to take over as American distributor for TikTok and keeper of all American user data. Several major administration and congressional critics of TikTok have indicated the limited partnership envisioned by the Oracle deal would not address their security concerns.

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