China blasts US 'digital gunboat diplomacy' over TikTok

BEIJING • China has slammed Washington for using "digital gunboat diplomacy" after US President Donald Trump ordered TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance to sell its interest in the Musical.ly app it bought and merged with TikTok.

As tensions soar between the world's two biggest economies, Mr Trump has claimed TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage. The order issued last Friday builds on restrictions issued last week by Mr Trump requiring that TikTok and WeChat end all operations in the United States.

Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said "freedom and security are merely excuses for some US politicians to pursue digital gunboat diplomacy" - referring to vessels used by Western imperial powers during the 19th century, seen by China as a deeply humiliating period in its history.

Mr Zhao said TikTok had done everything required by the US, including hiring only Americans as its top executives, hosting its servers in the US and making public its source code. But the app has been "unable to escape the robbery through trickery undertaken by some people in the US based on bandit logic and political self-interest", he added at a regular press conference.

The order, set to take effect in 90 days, retroactively prohibits the acquisition and bars ByteDance from having any interest in Musical.ly.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2020, with the headline 'China blasts US 'digital gunboat diplomacy' over TikTok'. Subscribe