The US Commerce Department has announced that it is rescinding a decision made to place Chinese owned TikTok and WeChat on a list of applications that were prohibited from transactions by US citizens. The ban was issued in September of last year by the Trump administration in a bid to stop any additional downloads of the apps.
Presidential Executive Orders
President Joe Biden recently withdrew a number of executive orders by the previous president that sought to block any new downloads of the apps which are owned by the Chinese company Tencent and ordered the Commerce Department to conduct a review of any security concerns posed by these and other Chinese-made apps. The previous administration had established the so-called 'TikTok ban' in response to concerns about data being gathered on US citizens by China and also sought to ban transactions with other apps, including WeChat, which would have effectively banned their use in the US. WeChat has reportedly been downloaded by more than 19 million users in the US and has become a widely used platform for payments, services and games. Biden's new executive order revokes the bans against WeChat and TikTok as well as against another eight communication and financial software applications.
While Biden's executive order rescinded the bans, it nonetheless directed the Commerce Department to continue monitoring applications like TikTok to determine whether they could impact US national security. It also ordered the department to present recommendations within 120 days that would help to protect US data acquired or made available to companies controlled by other foreign adversaries.
National Security Concerns
TikTok remains one of the world's most popular social media apps and China's foreign ministry welcomed the move as a positive move urging the US to respect the free market and not to use so-called national security concerns to suppress China's tech industry. The effort by the Trump administration to effectively ban various Chinese apps had led to numerous legal challenges which had the effect of heightening tensions between the two countries. Last year a US district court judge granted a temporary injunction to TikTok that blocked the effort to ban downloading the app. At the time Trump had approved a bid by US tech company Oracle (backed by Walmart) to purchase TikTok but the move failed to gain approval from China's regulators. The app is believed to have more than 1 billion users world wide and is particularly popular with younger users.
Commentators have said that Biden's action represents a 'middle path' which acknowledges the security threat of these apps and leaving open the door for re-imposing these sanctions in another form depending on what the Commerce Department finds in its report. The move comes a day after the passage of a sweeping industrial policy bill which is aimed at countering the surging threat from China's manufacturing base that poured $170 billion into US research and development.