The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has demanded that TikTok's Chinese owners sell their share of the company or face a U.S. ban, the company told Reuters Wednesday.
The move is the strongest in a series of recent steps against the company by U.S. officials and lawmakers. American officials have raised fears that TikTok's U.S. user data could be passed on to China's government. There is also concern that pro-Chinese propaganda could be pushed through the app.
TikTok remains very popular and is used by two-thirds of teenagers in the United States.
Wang Wenbin is China’s foreign ministry spokesperson. He told reporters that the U.S. has not presented evidence that TikTok threatens American national security. He also said the U.S. was using the excuse of data security to suppress foreign companies.
ByteDance, which owns TikTok, confirmed that 60 percent of its shares are owned by foreign investors.
It is the first time Biden, a Democrat, has threatened to ban TikTok. Former President Republican Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok in 2020 but the move was blocked by U.S. courts.
Brooke Oberwetter is a TikTok spokesperson. She told Reuters the company had recently heard about the possible ban from the U.S. Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
CFIUS is a powerful national security body. It had recommended in 2020 that ByteDance sell TikTok. Under pressure from then-President Trump, ByteDance unsuccessfully tried to sell TikTok to Walmart and Oracle in late 2020.
TikTok head Shou Zi Chew is set to appear before the U.S. Congress next week. It is not clear whether the Chinese government would approve any sale or divestment.
Last month, the White House gave government agencies 30 days to remove TikTok from federal devices and systems. More than 30 U.S. states have also banned employees from using TikTok on government-owned devices. On Thursday, Britain’s government announced that TikTok is banned from government devices, effective immediately.
Any U.S. ban could large face legal blocks and also have possible political effects.
Last week, Democratic Senator Mark Warner said it was important the U.S. government do more to explain the national security risks from TikTok.
TikTok and CFIUS have been negotiating for more than two years on data security requirements. TikTok said it has spent more than $1.5 billion on data security efforts and rejects spying accusations.
Last week, the White House backed legislation to give the administration new powers to ban TikTok and other foreign-based technologies if they threaten national security. That could give the Biden administration more strength in court if it bans TikTok.
China has long been concerned about foreign social media and communications apps. It bans most of the best-known ones, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by Reuters and The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
teenager — n. someone who is between 13 and 19 years old
divest — v. to sell or give away