Aug. 6 (UPI) — Amid a larger push by the United States to limit the Chinese Communist Party’s access to U.S. data, President Donald Trump on Thursday issued sweeping restrictions against the Chinese parent companies of the smartphone applications TikTok and WeChat.
Issued through two executive orders, the unspecified bans prohibit any transaction with ByteDance, the owner of the widely popular video-sharing TikTok app, and WeChat’s Tencent Holdings Ltd and will go into effect in 45 days.
Trump informed both the Congress and the House of the bans in two separate letters, one for each app, stating the actions were being taken to protect the United States from the threat posed by the Chinese-based companies.
“The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People’s Republic of China continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States,” the president wrote.
The Trump administration has been pursuing to limit China’s access and on Wednesday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a so-called Clean Network campaign that aims to block the Chinese Communist Party’s access to the United States’ internet infrastructure to protect the private data of the United States’ citizens and companies.
“With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat and others are significant threats to the personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP content,” Pompeo said.
In the executive orders, Trump said the two apps automatically capture vast swaths of information from their users, which could potentially be used by Beijing. The apps can also be used by China to spy on Chinese nationals visiting the United States, Trump said, adding the apps also censor content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive and could be used as part of the Asian nation’s disinformation campaigns.
“This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build Dossiers of personal information for blackmail and conduct espionage,” the executive order concerning TikTok said.
In the WeChat executive order, Trump wrote: “The application captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.”
The move follows the Trump administration in June designating Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as national security threats as Pompeo described them as Trojan horses for Chinese intelligence.”
In July, the United States’ top diplomat said they were looking to ban Chinese-owned smartphone apps but called out TikTok by name.
Earlier this month, Trump threatened to ban the video-sharing social media application and gave it until Sept. 15 to sell its U.S. business to Microsoft or it will be pulled from the United States’ virtual storefronts.
Meanwhile, Instagram on Wednesday introduced a new “Reels” feature as a competition to TikTok.
The executive orders were issued amid fraying relations between Beijing and Washington with the United States repeatedly condemning China over its human rights abuses against Hong Kong protesters and its Muslim minority citizens in the northwestern Xinjiang region.
China has repeatedly balked at the accusations, demanded that the United States stop interfering in its internal business and issued retaliatory measures.
On Wednesday, China accused the United States of using its Clean Network campaign to hinder Chinese companies under the pretext of national security.
“The U.S. practice has no factual basis at all and is sheer malicious slander and political manipulation to maintain its high-tech monopoly,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a regular press briefing. “This is a typical hegemonic behavior that runs against market principles and international trade rules and severely threatens the security of global industrial and supply chains.”