TikTok target of anti-China paranoia

The furore in the United States over so-called Chinese spying, sparked by the Joe Biden administration's botched response to an errant Chinese meteorological research balloon, has been given a new lease on life, with the White House on Monday giving government agencies 30 days to remove the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok from all federal devices and systems, alleging that it poses national security risks.

Canada, which always toes the US' line in its anti-China strategy, also announced it is banning Tik-Tok from all government-issued mobile devices.

Some US agencies, including the departments of defense, homeland security and state, already have restrictions on the Chinese app in place, as Congress passed the "No TikTok on Government Devices Act" in December, which requires the social media app to be removed from the information technology of federal agencies. The ban does not apply to entities not associated with the federal government, or to the millions of US people who use the hugely popular app.

While the Biden administration claims the ban is due to its intensifying scrutiny concern and data privacy, it is nothing more than an ideologically motivated move. It is another instance of the US using national security as an excuse to abuse state power in its clampdown on Chinese high-tech companies.

The ban, in addition to many other restrictions targeting China's high-tech sector, including advanced semiconductors, has been introduced based on the spurious claim that the popular app is being used by the Chinese government to "manipulate and monitor its users while it gobbles up Americans' data to be used for their malign activities". There has been nothing to support this allegation except the anti-China hysteria of some US politicians.

It is the app's Chinese ownership that is the app's "original sin". The ban in December was passed without any deliberation, and unfortunately that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments, as TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said, describing the ban as being "little more than political theater". The ban has also drawn criticism from within the US. "Americans have a right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange our thoughts, ideas, and opinions with people around the country and around the world", the American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday.

It said that the ban will "limit Americans' political discussion, artistic expression, free exchange of ideas and even prevent people from posting cute animal videos and memes".

It is sad that despite the world becoming increasingly interdependent and interconnected economically, the ghost of McCarthyism still haunts the US, riding on the paranoia about anything related to China.