The US has offered China the “choice of submission or mortal combat in the tech realm”, state media in Beijing have said, as the two rival powers manoeuvred on the thorny issue of splitting up TikTok.
The popular video-sharing app has joined Huawei to become a technology flashpoint, with Chinese officials and media rushing to defend it following Donald Trump’s threat of a US ban.
The US president later gave Microsoft until 15 September to make an acquisition deal with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, and said the US Treasury should receive payment as part of the deal. As with his declaration on banning the app, he did not explain if, or how, this was possible.
An editorial in the official state paper, China Daily, said China would not accept the “theft” of one of its technology companies, “and it has plenty of ways to respond if the administration carries out its planned smash and grab”.
The US actions were driven by the profits in data, it said, and offered “an either-or choice of submission or mortal combat in the tech realm”.
On Monday, a spokesman for China’s ministry of foreign affairs said China firmly opposed any US action against Chinese software companies over national security concerns. “The US generalises the concept of national security and, without any evidence, presumptions of guilt and threats against relevant companies,” said Wang Wenbin.
“This violates the principles of market economy and exposes the hypocrisy and typical double standards of the US in maintaining fairness and freedom. It also violates the World Trade Organisation’s principles of openness, transparency and non-discrimination.”
China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, also accused the US of hypocrisy. “It is the US that has politicised economic issues and abused the concept of national security to pursue discriminatory and exclusive policies,” he said.
Kai-Fu Lee, the former president of Google China, said the US treatment of TikTok was “unbelievable”.
Lee said China set out clear rules for tech companies to comply with if they wanted to do business in the country, and Google had decided not to stay on that basis. He accused the US of giving no parameters for TikTok to work with, or providing any evidence for their national security claims.
“Google didn’t want to comply with Chinese laws & regulations, so it quit,” said Lee, who added he had left the company prior to its exit from China. “Forced acquisition + only 45 days + intermediary fees are not comparable to Google. It is incredible,” he said.
An editorial in China’s state-owned 21st Century Business Herald said forcing the sale would set a “dangerous precedent”. “For this transaction, the Chinese government may also consider reviewing whether the technology transfer in it violates Chinese laws and harms China’s national interests.”
ByteDance has not confirmed any discussions with Microsoft, but an internal staff memo from founder Zhang Yiming addressed the speculation on Monday.
Zhang said they had cooperated with authorities on privacy concerns, and had “initiated preliminary discussions” with an unnamed tech company to allow them to keep operating in the US.
Separately on Monday the company also said it was considering establishing TikTok’s headquarters outside the US.Advertisement
The reports prompted some backlash on Chinese social media, with some accusing the company of surrendering to the US, which was akin “to being anti-China”. “Choose wisely on selling to the United States or becoming an enemy at home,” wrote one user.