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US-China tensions

Trump to act on banning TikTok in US as early as Saturday

President opposes American firm acquiring popular Chinese video-sharing app

TikTok, the wildly popular Chinese-owned video-sharing platform, has been under scrutiny in the U.S. due to security concerns.   © Getty Images

PALO ALTO, U.S./NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump has said he will act on banning TikTok in the U.S. as soon as Saturday, while rejecting the idea of U.S. companies acquiring the popular video-sharing platform from its Chinese owner ByteDance.

"As far as TikTok is concerned, we're banning them from the United States," Trump told reporters on Air Force One on Friday evening in the US as he flew from Florida to Washington.

Trump said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order. "I have that authority," he said.

The president's statement comes as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency body including the Treasury and Commerce departments, is investigating the 2017 acquisition by ByteDance of Musical.ly, which later became TikTok.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had said a recommendation would be made to the president on TikTok this week.

It also comes as Microsoft, and an investor group formed by several U.S. funds, have reportedly been in talks with ByteDance to purchase its majority shares in TikTok.

However Trump on Friday made clear he was not in favor of a deal to let a U.S. company buy TikTok's American operations.

Microsoft declined to comment.

Tiktok's growing influence in the U.S. has raised concerns over its ties to China, and has become part of escalating tension over technology between Washington and Beijing.

U.S. regulators have said the app may transfer data from U.S. users to China or censor content that strikes a nerve with Beijing.

One possible action Trump might take to ban the short-video app from the U.S. is to issue an executive order to require all network providers to block access to the Chinese apps, similar to how China's "Great Firewall" is deployed to block certain foreign apps.

The Trump administration had also been considering whether to add TikTok and iByteDance to the so-called Entity List, which would severely restrict its access to U.S. technology, including updates by Apple and other app stores. Huawei, the Chinese telecoms equipment group, was put on the list in 2019.

"While we do not comment on rumors or speculation, we are confident in the long-term success of TikTok," a company spokesperson told the Nikkei Asian Review.

Musical.ly was a lip-sync video platform founded by Chinese nationals in Shanghai but with a significant U.S. presence including an office in California. After the acquisition, ByteDance grew the $1 billion purchase into its social media crown jewel. Downloads for TikTok and its mainland Chinese version Douyin hit 1 billion worldwide in early 2019.

TikTok has been highly popular among young Generation Z social media users in the U.S., where the app had been installed 165 million times as of April, according to data from market research firm Sensor Tower, in a country of 328 million people.

That popularity makes TikTok an ideal platform to reach young and future voters. In June TikTok users mobilized a movement to reserve seats for a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma without any intention to attend. Only 6,200 people showed up to the 19,000-seat stadium despite the Trump campaign's claim that over a million people had requested tickets.

ByteDance is not the first Chinese company being strong-armed to sell U.S. assets. CFIUS previously forced China's Kunlun Tech to sell Grindr, the world's largest LGBTQ dating app, after it deemed Chinese ownership posed a national security threat.

Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July had said they were weighing an outright ban on the Chinese social media apps, which would put more than just TikTok under Washington's scrutiny.

"In its current form, TikTok represents a potential threat to personal privacy and our national security," U.S. senator Marco Rubio said in a statement. "I applaud the Trump Administration for taking this critical step, but we must do more than simply remove ByteDance from the equation."

"Moving forward, we must establish a framework of standards that must be met before a high-risk, foreign-based app is allowed to operate on American telecommunications networks and devices," said Rubio, adding that he is preparing a new related legislation.

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