US President Donald Trump has announced sweeping restrictions against Chinese-owned social media giants TikTok and WeChat, his latest explosive move aimed at countering China’s rising global power.
Trump on Thursday signed executive orders giving Americans 45 days to stop doing business with the Chinese platforms, effectively setting a deadline for a potential pressured sale of viral video sensation TikTok to Microsoft.
The president cited national security concerns for the moves, which also threw into doubt the American operations of WeChat’s parent firm, Tencent, an uber-powerful player in the video gaming industry and one of the world’s richest companies.
Trump has taken an increasingly heavy hammer to US relations with China, challenging it on trade, military and economic fronts, and Thursday’s effort provoked more outrage in Beijing.
The new restrictions sent Tencent shares into a spin, with the issue tanking as much as 10 per cent at one point in Hong Kong trade, wiping almost $50 billion off its market capitalisation.
Other Asian markets also took note, with investors concerned about increasingly bitter relations between the economic titans that some fear could lead to a renewal of their painful trade war.
Officials from both sides are due to meet next Saturday to review a trade deal signed earlier this year.
“TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories,” Trump’s order said.
Data could potentially be used by China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers on people for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage, it alleged.
Beijing slammed the move as “arbitrary political manipulation and suppression” and said it would come at the expense of American users and companies.
Users of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform said the move would cut off many Chinese living and studying abroad.
“How can overseas students contact with their families once WeChat is banned?” one user wrote.
In a statement, TikTok vowed to “pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure … our company and our users are treated fairly — if not by the Administration, then by the US courts.” Tencent said in a statement it was “reviewing” the order.
Trump’s move adds to a laundry list of issues that have ratcheted up tensions between the superpowers, including Hong Kong, trade, Huawei, Taiwan and the spread of the coronavirus.