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Trump Administration’s Orders to Halt WeChat and TikTok Transactions Promise to Affect Chinese Americans First

Jericho Casper



John Costello, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Security at the U.S. Department of Commerce

September 18, 2020 — The United States Commerce Department said Friday that it plans to restrict access to WeChat and TikTok, two Chinese-developed apps, as of midnight on Sunday.

On August 6, President Donald Trump signed an executive order seeking to ban U.S. “transactions” with WeChat and TikTok within 45 days.

Commerce Department officials claimed the move was driven by national security concerns. Commerce Department representatives said during a press briefing Friday morning, “it is well-known and documented that Tencent [Holdings Ltd., a Chinese multination holding company,] works with TikTok to surveille, collect data, and push propaganda.”

Department representatives said that any moves to distribute WeChat or TikTok on an app store will be prohibited after midnight on Sunday. While users who have already downloaded the apps will be able to continue using the software, the Commerce Department’s restrictions state that updated versions of the apps cannot be downloaded.

The Trump administration’s restrictions targeting WeChat, the less American-focused of the two, are more extensive than those targeting TikTok. Beginning Sunday, it will be illegal to host or transfer internet traffic associated with WeChat, the department said in a press release.

“User experience with WeChat will be degraded,” said John Costello, deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and security at the Commerce Department. Costello said that as of Monday, American WeChat users will not be able to use the app to initiate money transfer in United States.

The Department’s decision drew public objection for impinging on free-speech rights, with some arguing the move is discriminatory to Chinese speakers in the U.S.

WeChat, a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app, developed by Tencent, has been described as China’s app for everything due to its wide range of functions. The app is one of the main communications platforms utilized by Mandarin-speaking populations.

While WeChat only boasts of 3.3 million users in the United States, it is a crucial communications tool.

The restrictions put in place by the Commerce Department are likely to affect many Chinese Americans and international scholars, who use the app to communicate, share, and send money to acquaintances in Mainland China.

TikTok stands to face the same fate as WeChat come November 12, according to the release. Commerce Department officials said that pushing back the regulation of TikTok, the far more popular app of the two among American audiences, until after the presidential election, was not a political move.


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