Trump and Microsoft combine to escalate tensions with China in the run up to the presidential election, writes Shabbir Lakha
In the ongoing saga of escalating tensions between the US and China, Trump’s sights have been set on the Chinese social media app TikTok. He announced last week that he would be signing an executive order to ban the app from the US over “national security concerns” about American data and “intellectual property theft”.
The app, whose parent company is China-based firm ByteDance, is one of the fastest growing social media apps and has enjoyed especially rapid growth as a result of the lockdown. Roughly a sixth of the app’s 800 million average monthly users are in the United States, with around 80 million Americans using it a day.
Jumping in to save the day, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella spoke to Trump and has agreed to negotiate a buyout of TikTok in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and Trump has agreed to give them 45 days to do it. Microsoft’s solution is to store user data in the US – something ByteDance has said it already does.
In a statement, Microsoft said 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." It also said it would encourage other US investors to purchase minority stakes in the company.
The ‘proper economic benefits’ seems to be key – and of course it’s easy money for Microsoft to take over the existing operations of a successful app that is being forced to sell. As arch-neoconservative Republican Lindsey Graham said, “a win-win in the making”.
Of course the primary concern for Trump isn’t exactly economic gain, nor is it data security – after all Edward Snowden revealed in spectacular fashion that the primary threat to American individual privacy is none other than the US government and its security agencies. No, this is about ratcheting up the growing cold war with China.
To raise another cliché, Republicans chimed in to claim that China may be using data from apps like TikTok to influence the upcoming US election – the same election that Trump suggested delaying just days prior as his prospects of winning continue to steadily decrease.
The irony extends of course with Trump claiming to be concerned about the privacy and security of his citizens while he takes the authoritarian measures of signing an executive order to ban a social media app, or while his federal troops brutalise unarmed protesters.
Joe Biden’s response was to reportedly instruct his staffers not to use TikTok.
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Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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