04:29 GMT25 September 2020
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    US President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok and WeChat by 15 September if they were not sold to a US company, triggering a lawsuit from TikTok owner ByteDance and sparking further diplomatic rows with Beijing. But just how effective would a ban on WeChat's US operations be in the long-term?

    The popular social media platform, WeChat, was launched in 2011 by Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings, who also owns QQ Messenger and numerous gaming platforms such as Riot Games, as well as stakes in Fortnite and Snapchat.

    Yuwan Hu, research director for Daxue Consulting in Shanghai and Andy Mok, senior research fellow for the Centre For China and Globalisation, discussed the implications of a potential ban on WeChat in the United States.

    According to figures, the number of monthly active users for WeChat stood at 1.1bn, including its Chinese and international versions, Ms Yuwan Hu told Sputnik.

    WeChat did "not have a direct competitor" to date in China as it was "a combination of social media and e-commerce apps on the global market", she said.

    Despite this, the app was not a direct competitor to Facebook or WhatsApp in the overseas market and a ban "might not be an effective solution" compared to other economic and political challenges, she added.

    "In fact, many users in specific regions such as China, the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific will just spend more time on their respective local apps. When not physically in China, Westerners may prefer to use WhatsApp or Facebook more, with Asians having a higher preference towards Line," she said.

    Overseas users partly affected by the measures would turn to such alternatives, she said, adding critical services affected by the potential US ban would "have some impact on the current user experience".

    "However, I would not worry much about technologies like artificial intelligence or online payment systems," she added.

    She concluded: "It is an app that has monopolised the digital era. However, it is also a good one to learn from, exploit and challenge in order to boost [market] competitiveness."

    According to Mr Andy Mok, China had the largest number of WeChat users, but the social media app was "used mainly by those with a connection to China" in the US.

    But the effects of such a ban would be based on geopolitical agendas, posing some long-term risks to Chinese businesses, he added.

    "This is bad for Chinese firms since they are being targeted not for their behaviour, but for who they are," Mok said.

    Speaking further on the matter, Mr Mok explained the differences between Chinese regulations on social media apps and US restrictions, stating that there were "unfair" practices on behalf of Washington.

    "China only requires companies comply with Chinese laws and regulations, whereas the US approach is to ban or restrict companies and individuals based on who they are. This is not only unfair but detrimental to American interests," he concluded.

    According to reports, Facebook and Twitter were banned in China following the 2009 Ürümqi riots in Xinjiang, which left nearly 200 dead and injured over roughly 1,000.

    Xinjiang Independence activists used the US platforms to spread information, triggering a boycott from mainland China and strong government response deeming the incident an act of terrorism.

    Beijing is set to address concerns over the potential bans in upcoming phase one trade negotiations, according to US media reports, where the two sides will hold talks on agricultural trade and currency exchange rates, among others.

    ByteDance may relocate its Beijing headquarters to London but would wait for a government statement on doing so, media reports citing sources familiar with the matter wrote this week.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    trade row, trade, tech, China, Donald Trump, US-China trade war, social media, wechat, TikTok
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