TikTok’s mammoth global userbase combined with its partial Chinese ownership has led to fears it could become a powerful political tool for the Chinese Communist Party.
The Chinese ambassador to the UK responded to concerns over the app on March 28, saying “We urge the British side to respect the facts, stop generalizing and abusing the concept of national security, and stop recklessly suppressing Chinese enterprises.” This comes after the UK government banned TikTok from the work phones of civil servants and ministers earlier in March, a measure already taken by the US and the European Commission in February.
Concerns over TikTok have been mounting for some time, but came to a head this month as US congress prepared to question TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on the app’s ties to the Chinese government on March 23. The Biden administration is threatening to implement an all-out national ban on the app if it does not divest from its Chinese parent company Bytedance.
Reactions to the proposal in the US have been mixed. Protestors gathered outside the Capitol building in Washington DC on March 22 to oppose the banning of TikTok, arguing that it supports the creation of art, family life, and small businesses. Their sentiments were supported by Representative Jamaal Bowman, who called Congress’ fixation on TikTok “racist hysteria”, asserting that TikTok poses no more of a national security threat than other platforms.
Spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mao Ning, released a statement on the Congressional hearing in which she ridiculed the insecurity of American politicians: “How unsure of itself can the U.S., the world’s top superpower, be to fear a young person’s favourite app to such a degree?”
Western countries are not the only ones worried about TikTok. Japan is reportedly considering a ban on the app, for which a coalition of members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will present a proposal in April. Taiwan already has a ban in place – all Chinese apps are prohibited on government work phones.
TikTok claims that it has never shared user data with the Chinese government and would not comply if requested to do so.