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Trump’s vow to ban TikTok reflects GOP’s anti-China posture ahead of election

Until this year, when the coronavirus pandemic caused a dramatic number of infections and deaths in the United States, Trump had taken a much warmer tone towards Beijing, repeatedly touting his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. and refusing to confront him forcefully on human rights violations.

But the TikTok order, which on Saturday was not made public, marked a further escalation by Trump against China as the United States continues to pull out of the pandemic and approval of its handling of the public health crisis remains underwater, threatening his re-election prospects.

Trump is also choosing a high profile fight with the fast growing short video sharing app which has been downloaded over 2 billion times and is increasingly popular with young people, especially in the midst of the pandemic, so that users are posting viral videos that many poke fun at the president himself. .

China has long been the United States’ greatest geopolitical enemy and a hotbed of derision in the Rust Belt states that have been decimated by the digging of our manufacturing base, said Cliff Sims, a former Trump aide. to the White House. Trump took advantage of this in 2016.

The Sims continued: Adverse views on China are now at an all time high because of covid-19. So when you combine geopolitical realities and domestic politics, it makes perfect sense for the president to keep upping the rhetoric and taking action to confront China head-on.

On board Air Force One returning from Florida on Friday night, Trump said he planned to use either emergency economic powers or an executive order to prevent TikTok from operating nationwide.

As for TikTok, banned them in the United States, he told reporters.

Earlier today, the president considered an order that would force Chinas ByteDance to sell the U.S. side of TikTok for national security reasons, but Trump then stressed to reporters traveling with him that he did not support a deal to let a US company buys the US operations of TikToks.

Microsoft is still the top contender to buy TikTok if a deal is struck, according to people familiar with the discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

ByteDance and Microsoft were close to a deal, and it could be finalized as early as this weekend, one person said, but it was not clear if Trumps’ comments late Friday or other factors could change that.

ByteDance would still prefer not to sell if it is an option to continue operating in the United States, the individual said.

TikToks representatives were still running a public relations campaign to appeal to government officials this weekend. Hilary McQuaide, a spokesperson for the company, issued a statement saying it stores data in the United States and has hired nearly 1,000 American employees so far this year. TikTok has 1,500 employees in the United States and is rapidly increasing that number.

And the managing director of TikTok in the US posted a video on the app thanking US users.

We don’t plan to go anywhere, said Vanessa Pappas, pledging to create 10,000 more jobs in the United States over the next few years. We appreciate the support. Were here for the long haul.

Avid TikTok fans took to the app on Saturday because they feared a shutdown, some to beg subscribers to find them on other social media sites, others to encourage users to get VPNs to donate. feel like they were accessing TikTok from another country. Others have made videos trying to calm everyone’s nerves, insisting that there is no way the app will shut down for good.

Many so-called TikTok teens have already led a digital vendetta targeting Trump, using their internet know-how to try and make it look like the merchandise is sold out on its site and inundating its campaign app with bad reviews across the board ‘App Store. But their most high-profile stunt may have disturbed the president even more: a grand coalition of young users hatched a plan to book tickets to their June Tulsa rally that they never planned to use, in the aim to disappoint the campaign.

Attendance at the Tulsa rally was lower than expected, for which teens and K-pop fans immediately claimed credit. But the Trump campaign said it had verified the expected attendees and that those tickets were not reserved.

TikTok has also been an outlet for videos created by comedian Sarah Cooper, who has used the platform as well as Twitter to post short clips mocking the president that have gone largely viral. His most recent was lip-synced with the audio of Trump speaking to reporters on Friday: We were watching TikTok. We may be banning TikTok. We may be doing other things.

TikTok came under even greater scrutiny this week among Senate Republicans, who also deployed harsh anti-China rhetoric in their policies on Capitol Hill and in their re-election campaigns.

On Tuesday, a group of Republican Senators including Senators Tom Cotton (Ark.), Kevin Cramer (ND), Ted Cruz (Texas), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rick Scott (Fla.) And Thom Tillis (NC) wrote to senior administration officials questioning whether TikTok could be armed by the Chinese government to interfere with the 2020 elections.

We write to express our concerns about TikTok, the Chinese social media service, which could allow the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to engage in influence operations against the United States, including operations aimed at interfere with our elections, wrote the senators.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Who has repeatedly raised concerns about big tech ties to China, tweeted on Friday that ordering ByteDance Ltd to sell TikTok was exactly the right outcome and, citing information, would be great news if accurate. This report came before the president made it clear to reporters that he opposed a deal allowing a U.S. company to buy U.S. operations from TikToks.

However, criticism of TikTok has at times been bipartisan on Capitol Hill. Last October, Cotton and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) asked intelligence officials to assess the national security risks of the apps and present the results to lawmakers.

The administration has also taken several measures to punish Beijing in recent weeks, such as an order for Chinese officials to close its consulate in Houston, economic sanctions for human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims and deportation plans. of some Chinese journalists and restriction of foreign students in the United States.

Speaking to reporters on a separate trip to Florida last month, Trump said U.S. relations with China were severely damaged by the coronavirus and that he was no longer thinking of a possible second deal trading with China.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has continued to mock alleged Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as Beijing Biden for trying to portray the former vice president as weak on China. But polls conducted amid the pandemic have generally shown that the public favors Biden over relations with China, even after a torrent of anti-China campaign ads from the Trump campaign against the Democrat earlier this year.

Donald Trump was the weakest president in American history compared to China, said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates. As the most devastating public health crisis in 100 years spread rapidly, it echoed Chinese government propaganda to downplay the threat and justify inaction regardless of warnings from the intelligence community. and Joe Biden for not taking their word for it.

Bates added: As a result of Donald Trump’s failures, with every metric China’s position is stronger and ours is diminished.

Trump has two main options for limiting enforcement to the United States. One is based on a 2019 decree, the International Economic Emergency Powers Act, which effectively prohibits any communication tool considered a threat to national security. Under the full force of this order, app stores in the United States could not list TikTok, and Americans could not work for the company.

The other would go through a process led by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, an interagency body that recommends to the President whether certain proposed buybacks should be rejected and whether completed buybacks should be canceled, for reasons of national security. . The committee began investigating an acquisition by ByteDance after lawmakers called on the government to intervene on national security grounds.

While it’s quite rare, Trump used it as recently as March, when the president ordered a Chinese company to sell its stake in a US hotel software company. Last year, the Trump administration used it to ask the Chinese owners of the gay dating app Grindr to relinquish control of the company.

CFIUS is investigating the acquisition of by ByteDances in Beijing in 2017, which contributed to the massive popularity of TikTok in the United States.

It’s unclear exactly what would happen if Trump ordered the sale or if a ban on TikTok triggered the sale.

If Microsoft were to buy the social media site, it could lead to a massive overhaul of the tech giant’s landscape, putting it in direct competition with Facebook and Google YouTube in the social media world.

Rachel Lerman reported from Seattle. Elizabeth Dwoskin in San Francisco and Ellen Nakashima in Washington contributed to this report.

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