Ties between the world’s two superpowers are on increasingly delicate ground, following President Donald Trump’s move to prohibit US residents from doing business with the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok and messaging app WeChat.
The executive orders, announced Thursday and effective in 45 days, comes after the Trump administration made it clear it wanted to clamp down on “untrusted” Chinese apps.
Much of the focus has been on the move against TikTok, but it is the potential ban on WeChat that could have the greater impact and greater potential fallout for the citizens of both countries.
While TikTok was built for an international market that is walled off from China, WeChat is part and parcel to how daily life in China operates. This is central to why this latest move carries so much weight and lays the foundation for another major escalation between Washington and Beijing.
China hasn’t taken the move lightly, warning that the United States would have to “bear the consequences” of its own “bitter fruit.”
Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, “The U.S. is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses. That’s just a hegemonic practice.”
TikTok, owned by ByteDance, says it was “shocked” by the ban, which “sets a dangerous precedent for the concept of free expression and open markets.” The company added that it would "pursue all remedies available," giving rise to speculation that it may take legal action.
Lately, Trump has been pushing for TikTok to be sold to an American company.
The WeChat ban comes as even more of a surprise than the one facing TikTok.
The billion-user app is an important avenue of communication for business and family links between the US and China. In fact, it’s hard to overstate how essential WeChat is for doing business in China. American firms operating there, including McDonalds, KFC and Walmart, all rely on WeChat monetary transactions.
The potential negatives can be severe. For example, if Apple is banned from having Tencent, which owns WeChat, in its App store, Chinese consumers who rely on WeChat to conduct their daily lives would have no reason to stick with an iPhone.
An informal poll posted on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging website, on Friday asked users if in the event of a WeChat ban on the iPhone, whether they would uninstall the app or switch phones. The overwhelming response was to ditch the iPhone.
The iPhone’s popularity China is already ceding to Huawei.
Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Dean said a White House official told him late Thursday that the ban will not extend to Tencent, one of the world’s biggest internet firms.
Tencent is also a leading gaming company, owning a 40 percent stake in Epic Games, which is behind the wildly popular game Fortnite.
Tencent shares took a tumble of more than 5 percent off the back of the news.