The Trump administration has escalated its threats to ban Chinese social media apps TikTok and WeChat within the US, issuing executive orders last week sanctioning them. The orders will ban “transactions” between US entities and the parent companies of TikTok and WeChat (respectively ByteDance and Tencent). They leave a lot of unanswered questions, but they’re a threatening development for the companies, thanks to presidents’ broad sanctions powers.
On August 6th, Trump declared TikTok and WeChat a “national emergency” because of real — but also politically convenient — privacy and security concerns. He invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which lets him ban transactions between US and foreign entities. This requires less evidence of wrongdoing than putting ByteDance on the Department of Commerce’s banned “entity list,” something the Trump administration did with Chinese telecom Huawei. And the likely outcome is similar. Apple and Google could have to stop offering TikTok and WeChat on their app stores, and other parts of Tencent’s massive tech and media empire could suffer too. Existing app users wouldn’t necessarily be forced off the network, however, the way they’d be with China’s site-blocking Great Firewall.