Trump's TikTok threat lacks coherent tech strategy, experts say

Gopal Ratnam and Dean DeChiaro, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Business News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's push to ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok is only the latest in a yearslong struggle by his administration to slow China's technology juggernaut.

But experts say the U.S. effort lacks a well-coordinated policy that addresses domestic tech investment as well as concerns of key American allies.

"I think Trump's model of administration is like the Mongol hordes; he points the sword and everyone gallops, but there's not a lot of coordination," said Jim Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The United States appears to be taking a multipronged approach to thwarting China's technology goals spelled out in its "Made in China 2025" industrial policy, which seeks to make the country the dominant global power in tech and manufacturing. But there's "disagreement within the administration on how far to go," Lewis said.

Trump administration officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Justice Department officials have said that Chinese tech companies that operate popular apps allow Beijing to siphon off users' data or are using American technology to gain military advantage.

TikTok said it does not share users' data with the Chinese government and would not do so even if asked.


On Friday, Trump is said to have considered signing an order to force China's ByteDance to sell the U.S. portion of its subsidiary, TikTok, because of national security concerns, and Microsoft has expressed an interest in buying the company.

After initially saying he opposed TikTok's sale to Microsoft, Trump seems to have relented and on Monday said he would kick the app out of the U.S. market if the sale isn't completed by Sept. 15.

Separating from ChinaThe pushback against TikTok is "animated by concerns about data security and about China's growing reach and influence inside American society," said Ryan Hass, a fellow with the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution. "The Trump administration is seeking to create greater separation between American citizens and Chinese technology companies."

The administration sees Chinese companies "as vectors for Beijing to expand its influence into other societies around the world to the detriment of the United States and the traditional values it espouses," Hass said.


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