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China says US TikTok ban ‘an act of bullying’ that would backfire

<i>Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>TikTok says it now has over 170 million users in the United States.
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
TikTok says it now has over 170 million users in the United States.

By Nectar Gan, Marc Stewart and Wayne Chang, CNN

Hong Kong/Beijing (CNN) — China has described a potential TikTok ban as “an act of bullying” that would backfire on America.

The comments, made by China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday, came hours before a House of Representatives vote on legislation that would force TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to sell the popular short video app to an American company — or face being barred in the US, where it boasts over 170 million users.

“Even though the US has not found evidence on how TikTok endangers its national security, it has never stopped going after TikTok,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the ministry, told CNN Wednesday at a news conference in Beijing.

Wang accused the US of “resorting to acts of bullying” when it could not succeed in fair competition, saying such practice would disrupt market operations, undermine investor confidence and sabotage the global economic order.

“This will eventually backfire on the US itself,” he said.

US officials and lawmakers have long voiced concerns that the Chinese government could compel TikTok’s parent ByteDance to hand over data collected from US users. They also fear that the app could serve as a tool for Beijing to spread propaganda, misinformation or influence Americans.

Cybersecurity experts say that the national security concerns surrounding TikTok remain a hypothetical — albeit troubling — scenario. US officials have not publicly presented evidence that the Chinese government has accessed the user data of US TikTok users, an outcome that lawmakers say their bill is intended to prevent.

The House vote will proceed under fast-track rules that require a two-third majority for passage — which appears likely given widespread bipartisan support. The bill will then head to the Senate, where its fate is less certain.

In recent comments to reporters, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, who chairs a House select committee on China, rejected characterizations of the bill as a TikTok ban.

“It’s not a ban,” he said. “It puts the choice squarely in the hands of TikTok to sever their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. As long as ByteDance no longer owns the company, TikTok can continue to survive … the basic ownership structure has to change.”

China has previously said it would “firmly oppose” any forced sale of TikTok.

“The sale or divestiture of TikTok involves technology export, and administrative licensing procedures must be performed in accordance with Chinese laws and regulations,” a spokesperson for China’s commerce ministry said in March last year.

“The Chinese government will make a decision in accordance with the law.”

On Chinese social media site Weibo, Tiktok was ranked among the top trending topics on Wednesday, with the hashtag “Tiktok starts to fight back” drawing 80 million views. Many users voiced support for the app and its efforts to contest the bill, which include a full-screen notification encouraging users to call their representatives; some accused the US of being hypocritical.

“Let me tell a joke: American society is liberal and democratic, and it has a complete market economy,” said a comment with 2,000 upvotes.

The state-run Global Times, a nationalist tabloid, has also sprung to TikTok’s defense.

In an editorial last week, it accused the US of “openly trying to rob TikTok.”

“The image of free speech and rule of law in the US is in tatters, and the latest bill is simply further evidence of this,” it said.

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CNN’s Brian Fung contributed to this story.

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