US puts Chinese apps on notice as Trump gives TikTok 45 days to sell

President Donald Trump will take action against TikTok, WeChat and “countless” Chinese software companies that pose a national security threat to America, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday, apparently widening the scope of attention the US government is paying to online tech platforms developed in China.
“These Chinese software companies doing business with the United States, whether it’s TikTok or WeChat, there are countless more,” Pompeo said in a Fox News interview on Sunday, accusing Chinese technology firms of “feeding data” to the ruling Communist Party’s security apparatus.
Pompeo’s warning to Chinese software companies came as Trump agreed to a 45-day timeline for the Chinese internet giant ByteDance to negotiate a sale of its popular short-video app TikTok, with to Microsoft being the leading contender to buy the app, Reuters reported on Monday.
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Trump said on Friday he was planning to ban TikTok in the United States after dismissing the idea of a sale to Microsoft. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whose department is overseeing a national security review of the company, said on Sunday that TikTok will need to be blocked in the US or sold to another company.
TikTok denies it could be a tool for Chinese intelligence. But all members of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an inter-agency review body housed within the Treasury Department, agree that TikTok “cannot stay in the current format because it risks sending back information on 100 million Americans,” Mnuchin said in an ABC interview.
As TikTok faces a potential forced sale in the US, its owner ByteDance said on Monday that it “disagrees” with CFIUS’s conclusion that ByteDance must fully divest TikTok’s US operations.
“We have always been committed to user safety, platform neutrality, and transparency. However, we understand their decision in the current macro environment,” ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming said in a bilingual internal memo to employees on Monday afternoon.
CFIUS reviews foreign acquisitions of US companies to ensure such transactions do not create national security risks. The body’s mandate was broadened two years ago in response to concerns about China, which gave it the authority to review acquisitions retroactively.
Zhang said ByteDance has “fully cooperated” with the CFIUS review of its 2017 acquisition of the US-based app, which was later renamed TikTok.
The mobile platform, which lets users create and share 15-second videos with custom music clips, has built a huge user base in the US, particularly within young people.
The comments by Trump’s cabinet members follow a series of reports over a possible sale of TikTok by ByteDance, which operates a similar short-form video platform in China called Douyin. ByteDance is backed by domestic and international investors including SoftBank Group, Sequoia Capital, General Atlantic and Yunfeng Capital.
Microsoft said in a statement on Sunday that following a conversation between its CEO Satya Nadella and Trump, the US tech giant is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok and will complete these discussions no later than September 15.
It was not immediately clear what changed Trump’s mind. Banning TikTok would alienate many of its young users ahead of the US presidential election in November, and would likely trigger a wave of legal challenges.
Microsoft added that it would ensure all private data from TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.
“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the president’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury,” the statement said.
The company added that there was no certainty a deal would be reached.
ByteDance, Microsoft and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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