IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

China accuses U.S. of 'bullying' after House passes bill that could ban TikTok

Beijing said Washington was using national security as a “pretext” to suppress the Chinese owner of the wildly popular video-sharing app.
Get more newsLiveon

HONG KONG — China accused the U.S. on Thursday of “bullying” and using national security as a “pretext” to suppress the Chinese owner of TikTok after the House of Representatives passed a bill that could ban the app in the U.S.

The wildly popular video-sharing app is owned by China-based ByteDance, which under Chinese law is required to hand over information requested by the government. U.S. lawmakers worried that American users’ data could be compromised are considering legislation that would require ByteDance to divest the app or it could be banned from U.S. app stores.

The Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry said the U.S. was “leveraging state power” against ByteDance despite failing to provide evidence that TikTok is a threat to its national security.

“If the pretext of national security can be used to suppress excellent companies from other countries arbitrarily, there is no fairness or justice to speak of,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular news briefing in Beijing.

“Everyone can clearly see what is bullying behavior and what is tantamount to theft logic,” he added.

Lawmakers contend the app's owner, ByteDance, is beholden to the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok's consumers in the U.S.
TikTok supporters outside the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

In similar comments, Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesperson He Yadong told reporters that the U.S. should “genuinely respect the principles of market economy and fair competition” and “cease unjust suppression of foreign enterprises.”

He added that China would take all necessary measures to safeguard its interests.

Before the vote, Beijing warned that a ban would “ultimately backfire on the United States itself.”

The House voted to pass the legislation Wednesday 325 to 65, with one member voting present. It now goes to the Senate, where it is likely to face more scrutiny.

President Joe Biden, whose re-election campaign joined TikTok last month, has said he will sign the bill if it passes both houses of Congress.

TikTok has mounted an energetic campaign against the legislation, which it said was “jammed through” the House. The company has warned about the bill’s potential economic impact on small-business owners who depend on the app and has urged its 170 million U.S. users to speak out against it.

On Wednesday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said the ban would endanger hundreds of thousands of American jobs, giving “more power to a handful of social media companies.”

“Make your voices heard,” he said in a video on TikTok and X.

In congressional testimony last year, Chew said that ByteDance was “not an agent of China” and that TikTok “has never shared, or received a request to share, U.S. user data with the Chinese government.”

He said that information about TikTok’s American users had been moved to U.S. servers run by the Texas-based company Oracle and that under the new structure, “there is no way for the Chinese government to access it or compel access to it.”

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin
Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin described the U.S. TikTok bill as “theft logic.”Johannes Neudecker / DPA via Getty Images

House lawmakers who voted for the legislation Wednesday nonetheless expressed concerns that China could access information about Americans through TikTok or spread content on it to influence their views, particularly during this year’s elections.

The bill creates a process for the U.S. president to deem a social media app under the control of a foreign adversary as a threat to national security and ban it from U.S. app stores unless the app severs ties with that country within six months.

Some House members who voted against the legislation cited free speech concerns, arguing that the U.S. should not follow China in selectively blocking social media platforms.

Wang, the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson, said Thursday that the U.S. handling of TikTok was “completely different” from policy in China, where social media is heavily censored and Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, X and other platforms are inaccessible.

“We have always welcomed various foreign platforms and services to enter the Chinese market on the condition that they comply with Chinese laws and regulations,” he said.

The TikTok issue is likely to resonate in the presidential election; an NBC News poll in January found Biden struggling disproportionately with young TikTok users.

Former President Donald Trump, who secured the Republican nomination this week, expressed opposition to the ban in recent days after initially having supported it.

The U.S. legislation has also raised questions as to whether other countries will follow suit. On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that while TikTok is not allowed on government phones, there are no plans to ban its use by the public.

“You’ve always got to have national security concerns front and center,” he said in a radio interview. “But you also need to acknowledge that for a whole lot of people, this provides a way of them communicating.”

Mithil Aggarwal reported from Hong Kong, and Rae Wang reported from Beijing.