Chinese government officials have come out in official opposition to any forced sale of TikTok, creating a road bump for the Biden administration’s attempt to require a transfer of the platform to a domestic owner for it to stay in the United States.
The Chinese Commerce Ministry argued on Thursday that the proposed sale of TikTok to a U.S. client would involve the export of technology and has to be approved by the Chinese government. The government would likely not support it because it would undermine global investor confidence in the U.S. The government weighed in just before TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before Congress.
“If the news is true, China will firmly oppose it,” ministry spokeswoman Shu Jueting said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an interdepartmental agency that reviews U.S. sanctions with international businesses, demanded that Chinese parent company ByteDance sell its stake in TikTok or risk being banned.
Chew has stated that TikTok will protect user data in the U.S. through “Project Texas,” a plan to store all U.S. data on localized servers.
Officials have voiced their worries about Chew and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance’s relationship with the Chinese government. A report from the Australian Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media “confirms beyond any plausible doubt” that “ByteDance is subject to all the influence, guidance, and de facto control to which the Chinese Communist Party now subjects all PRC technology companies” and that “CCP and PRC state agencies have extended their ties into ByteDance to the point that the company can no longer be accurately described as a private enterprise.”
Members of Congress have proposed several bills to restrict TikTok in the U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has written a bill to ban the app outright, while Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and John Thune (R-SD) have introduced legislation to provide extra powers to the Commerce Department to analyze and determine if foreign business deals are security risks.
TikTok has responded by expanding its efforts to lobby in Washington. The social media company spent the fourth-highest amount on lobbying expenses from any internet company, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan platform tracking political spending.