TikTok CEO’s Chinese government ties in spotlight ahead of Capitol Hill testimony

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew
Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Bryan van der Beek/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

TikTok CEO’s Chinese government ties in spotlight ahead of Capitol Hill testimony

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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will continue the company’s efforts to distance itself from the Chinese Communist Party when he is grilled on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

Chew began his role as CEO for TikTok in April 2021; however, he simultaneously served as CFO of ByteDance — the China-based company that owns the app — until November 2021. His move to TikTok was viewed as one that solidified the influence of the Chinese parent company over the app.

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Despite the ties, Chew will promise Congress that the company will maintain a firewall between United States user data and the Chinese Communist Party, an effort to stave off a ban on the app by increasingly skeptical legislators.

“TikTok will remain a platform for free expression and will not be manipulated by any government,” Chew stated in his prepared remarks. “There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them.”

In defending TikTok, Chew cited Project Texas, the platform’s efforts to localize U.S. user data by storing them in Oracle-owned servers. There, the data will be kept out of the access of Chinese employees and moderated by local staff. Discussions with the government regarding Project Texas are ongoing, Chew said, but he said that the company has invested $1.5 billion into the project already.

However, despite Chew’s claims, questions about China’s ties to the app remain — as well as doubts about his role.

FBI Director Christopher Wray led the way in warning about the “national security concerns” posed by TikTok during congressional testimony earlier in March, with the heads of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency all agreeing with him.

Wray agreed with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) when asked if the CCP could use TikTok to access the data on millions of users through its control of ByteDance, if China could potentially control the software on millions of devices, and if China could use TikTok to drive narratives to attempt to divide Americans or to push anti-Taiwan sentiment.

Also, a report this week for 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.”

It was reported by The Information in February 2023 that Chew is one of 12 executives who report to ByteDance CEO Liang Rubo, a cofounder of ByteDance along with Zhang Yiming, who stepped down as CEO in 2021.

Human Rights Watch warned in 2020 that ByteDance has an “internal party committee” headed by the company’s vice president Zhang Fuping, and that “party committee members at ByteDance regularly gather to study President Xi Jinping’s speeches and pledge to follow the party in technological innovation.”

Chew became CFO of ByteDance in March 2021 and, according to his LinkedIn, until that month, he had been president of international operations for Xiaomi Technology, a Beijing-headquartered software developer the Pentagon labeled a “Communist Chinese military company” in January 2021. He had also, until March 2021, been a board member of Kingsoft Cloud, based out of the Chinese capital, which had one of its software applications blacklisted as a “national security” threat in January 2021 and has also been implicated in potential surveillance of China’s crackdown on its Uyghur Muslim population.

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TikTok has thrived during the two-plus years of Biden’s presidency after unsuccessful efforts by former President Donald Trump’s administration to crack down on the app. The Trump administration labeled TikTok a national security threat due to concerns that it could be exploited by Beijing to obtain U.S. user data illicitly.

Biden officials emphasize a national security review of the app is underway, and Biden is reportedly considering ordering TikTok to either end its Chinese ownership or face a ban.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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