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Biden's Move to Unban WeChat, TikTok Sends a Message to Allies on China

Biden's Move to Unban WeChat, TikTok Sends a Message to Allies on China

Friday, 11 June, 2021 - 03:30

Joe Biden couldn’t have picked a better time to release his latest executive order than his inaugural trip to Europe as US president.

In overturning Trump-era bans on Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat messaging app and ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok video service, the administration sends a message not only to Beijing but to allies around the world that its approach to Chinese technology isn’t about reflexive hostility, but nuanced policy.

Coupled with the revocation were new orders requiring officials such as the commerce secretary and director of national intelligence to provide a threat assessment and recommendations to protect against the use of sensitive data by foreign adversaries. Former President Donald Trump’s ban had been based on unproven claims that China was using such apps to threaten national security.

Signs of Biden’s more considered approach were apparent last week with an update to another Trump executive order that had banned US investment in Chinese companies with ties to the country’s military and surveillance sectors. As evidenced in that edict, the White House is tightening the criteria for blacklisting, and in doing so avoids the previous administration’s more broad approach of assigning guilt by association.

Showing allies that his policy approach is methodical and logical will be an important part of Biden’s plan to rebuild ties after four years of Trump denigrating friends and alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The hostility created the kind of distrust that rivals could exploit.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pursued NATO disunity as a national-security objective. China’s Xi Jinping has also sought to leverage European-US discord, noting in an April phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he hopes “Europe achieves its strategic autonomy.”

By laying out national security objectives, as Biden does in this executive order, the White House makes it easier for allied leaders to convince constituents that siding with America is a sound move. Providing them with facts and analysis instead of blunt rhetoric allows policy makers in Europe and elsewhere to push back against China’s lobbying efforts.

In Germany, for example, Merkel’s cabinet approved a security bill in December that would pave the way for Huawei Technologies Co. to continue operating there. That was seen as a blow to Trump administration attempts to block the Chinese telecommunications equipment provider from doing business abroad.

There are already signs that US influence is on the rise. In April, Germany ended up allowing Huawei to participate in the nation’s 5G rollout, but with high restrictions. The Group of Seven nations summit in Cornwall, which Biden will attend, is set to call for a fresh investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 virus and tackle state-sponsored forced labor of minorities, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

If he’s successful in regaining trust and momentum, Biden may be able to segue into tougher tasks such as building a united front to limit the supply of semiconductor equipment and technology to China, a key source of revenue for some European nations.

In this latest series of moves, the US president is making clear to Beijing that he’ll be tough on China, while telling the rest of the world that he also plans to be fair.


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