16 March 2023

China accuses US of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok

16 March 2023

China has accused the US of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok after reports that the Biden administration was calling for its Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the popular video-sharing app.

Washington has yet to present evidence that TikTok threatens national security and is using the excuse of data security to abuse its power to suppress foreign companies, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing.

“The US should stop spreading disinformation about data security, stop suppressing the relevant company, and provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for foreign businesses to invest and operate in the US,” he added.

TikTok was dismissive on Wednesday of a report in the Wall Street Journal that said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, part of the Treasury Department, was threatening a ban on the app unless its owners, Beijing-based ByteDance, divested.

“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said.

She added that TikTok was already answering concerns through “transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting and verification”.

The Journal report cited anonymous sources. The Treasury Department and the White House’s National Security Council declined to comment.

In late February, the White House gave all federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok off all government devices. Some agencies, including the Departments of Defence, Homeland Security and the State Department already have restrictions in place. The White House does not allow TikTok on its devices.

Congress passed the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act” in December as part of a sweeping government funding package. The legislation does allow TikTok to be used in certain cases, including for national security, law enforcement and research purposes.

Legislators in the House and the Senate have been moving forward with legislation that would give the Biden administration more power to clamp down on TikTok.

The video app remains extremely popular and is used by two-thirds of teenagers in the US, but there is increasing concern that Beijing could obtain control of American user data and push pro-Beijing narratives and propaganda on the app.

China has long been concerned about the influence of overseas social media and communications apps, and bans most of the best-known ones including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube — and TikTok.

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