China has accused the United States of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok following reports Washington is calling on its Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the popular video-sharing app.
The US has yet to present evidence that TikTok threatens its national security and was using the excuse of data security to abuse its power to suppress foreign companies, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on Thursday.
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“The US should stop spreading disinformation about data security, stop suppressing the relevant company, and provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for foreign businesses to invest and operate in the US,” Wang said.
“Data security issues should not be used as a tool for some countries to overstretch the concept of national security, abuse state power, and unjustifiably suppress other countries’ enterprises.”
TikTok was dismissive of a report in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, part of the Treasury Department, was threatening a ban on the app unless its owners, Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd, divested.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said.
TikTok was already answering concerns through “transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification”, said Shanahan.
The Journal report cited anonymous “people familiar with the matter”. The Treasury Department and the White House’s National Security Council declined to comment.
Push pro-Beijing propaganda?
The move is the most dramatic in a series of recent steps by US officials and legislators who have raised fears that TikTok’s American user data could be passed on to China’s government. TikTok has more than 100 million US users.
TikTok remains extremely popular and is used by two-thirds of teenagers in the US. But there is increasing concern that Beijing could obtain control of US user data that the app obtained and push pro-Beijing narratives and propaganda on the app.
TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew will appear before the US Congress next week.
It is not clear if the Chinese government would approve any divestiture and the Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
‘A specific risk’
Meanwhile, Britain said on Thursday it would ban TikTok on government phones with immediate effect, a move that follows other Western countries. The US, Canada, Belgium and European Commission have already banned the app from the devices of civil servants.
Cabinet office minister Oliver Dowden told parliament government devices would only be able to access third party apps from a pre-approved list. The ban does not include personal devices.
“This is a proportionate move based on a specific risk with government devices,” said Dowden.
Earlier in the week, when the prospect of such a ban was reported, TikTok said it would be disappointed by such a ban.