TikTok chief faces hostile US lawmakers over China ties
AFP: TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced relentless questioning from combative US lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle yesterday over the video-sharing app’s alleged ties to China and its danger to teens. The 40-year-old Singaporean suffered unusually intense grilling by both Republicans and Democrats who fear that Beijing could subvert the site for spying, data harvesting and advancing a Chinese Communist Party agenda.
The Harvard-educated former banker failed over more than five grueling hours to defuse an existential threat to TikTok as the app seeks to survive a White House ultimatum that it either split from its Chinese ownership or be banned in the United States.
Lawmakers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee afforded Chew no respite, frequently denying him opportunities to expand on his answers or tout the site’s huge global popularity with young people. “ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government and is a private company,” Chew said lawmakers in his opening remarks, referring to TikTok’s China-based parent company. “We believe what’s needed are clear transparent rules that apply broadly to all tech companies — ownership is not at the core of addressing these concerns,” Chew added.
A ban would be an unprecedented act on a media company by the US government, cutting off the country’s 150 million monthly users from an app that has become a cultural powerhouse — especially for young people. “TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance and more manipulation. Your platform should be banned,” committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said. In one particularly heated exchange, Chew was forced to acknowledge that some personal data of Americans was still subject to Chinese law, but insisted that would soon be changed. The US representatives also confronted Chew with dire examples of young users promoting suicide or dangerous stunts that have proved fatal and angered authorities globally. “Your technology is literally leading to death,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis as he pointed to a family in the audience whose son was killed in a train tragedy that his family says was linked to his TikTok use.
– Warning from Beijing –
Ahead of the hearing, the commerce ministry in Beijing said it would “firmly oppose” a forced sale, underlining that any deal or spin-off of TikTok would require approval by Chinese authorities. “Forcing the sale of TikTok… will seriously undermine the confidence of investors from various countries, including China, to invest in the US,” added spokesperson Shu Jueting.