"On Trump and TikTok"
It was Donald Trump’s reaction to his much ballyhooed Tulsa rally announcing his re-election bid that turned out to be a big flop for the man who promised “to make America great again” that caught his ire. It was something of a foreboding sign that he might not make it.
The dishevelled Trump started scouting for scapegoat. Of the 100,000 people with registered tickets expected to attend, only less than 6,200 showed up. He even threatened anyone who will come to protest against him. His campaigner managed to find the pandemic as one good excuse but not enough to convince the people’s antipathy, for it came at the height of the convulsion in America’s major cities protesting the killing of George Floyd.
Like a desperate politician looking for a ghost to beat for the fiasco, Trump finally has his attention focused on China’s popular app, TikTok. Al Jazeera reported that K-pop fans and users of TikTok claimed tickets to Donald Trump’s night rally in Tulsa did not use them as part of their coordinated effort to leave hundreds of seats empty. As reported by the New York Times, the scheme stemmed from an 11 June tweet from the Trump campaign promoting free registration online and via cellphones. The scheme exploded on the TikTok app, where young users implored followers to join but not to attend.
As Trump tried to regain equanimity for the political fiasco, he focused his ire on those brats of their hobby - TikTok. Hitting China through TikTok for spoiling his political extravaganza sounds plausible and logical. Those K-pop funs would have no way of knowing what hit them using China as his usual whipping boy to drum up support from the conservatives.
First, the US has been complaining of intellectual property theft. How could such charges prosper like mandating the US to transfer its technology to China. As one would put it, it is a charge that hovers between suspicion and puzzle. The US is not even aware that there are more innovative and advanced technology manufacturers now operating in China than in the US itself. The US claims that anywhere between $180 billion and $540 billion is stolen per year, and that is like looking at a black hole. These are serious charges, yet no one has been brought to court. The US rather appears totally ignorant that almost anything that is produced in the US from those sensitive defense contracts to advanced medical formulas is now consigned to be manufactured in China.
It is even self-serving to say that the US is ahead in technology, that anything made in China was likely stolen or copied from them. Trump speaks from his mouth and not from his brain. In 2019, China surpassed the US as the top source of international patent applications filed with WIPO from international intellectual property services, treaty-adherence activity and revenue base. The top five users of the Patent Cooperation Treaty were: China (58,990), the U.S (57,840), Japan (52,660), Germany (19,353) and the Republic of Korea (19,085).
For the third consecutive year, China-based telecom giant Huawei Technologies leads with 4,411 published PCT applications, and was the top corporate filer in 2019. This is symptomatic that China could wrest the leadership not only in communication but even in social media app such as TikTok.
Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been critical of TikTok’s Chinese ownership, saying it’s a threat to national security. That prompted ByteDance to explore a sale, although the company would prefer to retain its name, TikTok, if possible. Ensuring American data privacy has been a main crux of lawmaker’s arguments against Chinese ownership of TikTok.
While writing, Trump signed on Thursday an executive order barring transactions with TikTok's parent company ByteDance and also Tencent, owner of WeChat, starting in 45 days. As usual the US claims these two app "automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories."
As it is, TikTok has an estimated value of between $30 billion to $50 billion. CNBC reported that Microsoft's TikTok possible acquisition includes its operations in US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia could cost between $10 billion and $30 billion. Microsoft would have one year to transfer all of TikTok's data and operations to the US. If ByteDance hammers out a deal to sell its US operations by September 15, President Trump would have to forego his threat to ban TikTok.
If the sale goes through, the acquisition could dramatically shift the Big Tech landscape, adding to the scramble for social media users’ attention. Microsoft is currently valued at $1.55 trillion. Buying TikTok could put Microsoft in a powerful position to compete with Facebook and Google’s YouTube, which operate dominant social media sites. Microsoft has focused mainly on software for the past decade, though it owns professional networking site LinkedIn.
All these talks about banning TikTok reflect more of the paranoia in President Trump’s mind. In one instance, he made a threat saying anytime he might sign an executive order banning TikTok’s operation in the US. That reflected more of his crusade against China until after that embarrassing event at Tulsa where practically all the chairs in the coliseum were empty. Despite his lackluster handling of the pandemic and his reactionary decision to contain the Black Lives Matter (BLM) which now appears to blend with the white antifascist movement in Portland, the tenor of his decision reflected his basic instinct that he is not essentially anti-Chinese, provided they can come across with the right price he has in mind.
Nobody knows whether the executive order signed by Trump which included WeChat is intended to increase the ante for his threat to close down the Chinese apps. Moreover, this twist in US position towards TikTok has placed it in a much more embarrassing position. It shows that the concern of the US is not about its foreign policy direction but on how much to extract from China. He even said, if Microsoft and TikTok could reach a deal within 45 days, he can extend the operations of TikTok. Even then, the US treasury is demanding a bigger chunk of the pie.
Others sharply reacted saying that the US cannot get a commission much that TikTok is under pressure to sell the app to allow it to operate in the US. This condition has turned ugly for it looks more like extortion for China to come across. If the US simply distanced itself by not imposing a condition, such that could have been interpreted as purely one of foreign policy declaration.
It could even lose India’s trust after enticing that country to participate in the joint naval patrol in the South China Sea. One must remember that immediately after the brief clash between India and China in the Himalayas, the US was the first to pressure India to ban TikTok from operating in that country under the pretext that it is a threat to its national security. How will India react should the US allow TikTok to operate in the US knowing that the deal was reached after it came across with the right price? Would it not affect the relations of the two with India not getting anything after it banned TikTok’s operation.