Chinese state media this week is blasting Washington for what it calls the United States’ “nasty” treatment of TikTok — the wildly popular video-sharing app that has become emblematic of worsening US-China relations.
“The US’ decoupling from China starts [with] killing China’s most competitive companies,” wrote the Global Times, a state-run tabloid, in an editorial published Monday. “In the process, Washington ignores rules and is unreasonable.”
A weekslong debate about the future of TikTok — which is owned by Bejing-based tech firm ByteDance — came to a head over the weekend when US President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app from operating in the United States. Policymakers have repeatedly expressed concern that TikTok could pose a threat to national security should the data it collects on its US users end up in the hands of the Chinese government. TikTok, though, has said it stores its data outside of China and that it would resist any attempts by Beijing to seize the information.
By Monday, Trump said he would be open to allowing a US company to buy TikTok, albeit with the unusual caveat that any deal would have to include a “substantial amount of money” coming to the US Treasury. Washington State-based Microsoft (MSFT) has emerged as a potential buyer, and has said it is pursuing a purchase.
The dispute has drawn ire from state-run Chinese media outlets, whose editorials are often looked upon as a barometer of sentiment among senior officials.
The state-run newspaper China Daily, for example, dismissed a potential sale of the app as a “smash and grab” raid orchestrated by the US government.
“The US administration’s bullying of Chinese tech companies stems from data being the new source of wealth and its zero-sum vision of ‘American first,’” the English-language newspaper wrote in an editorial Monday. “China will by no means accept the ‘theft’ of a Chinese technology company.”
TikTok’s troubles in the United States have also prompted debate in China about how the app’s treatment compares to the way Beijing works with American tech firms. Many services provided by prominent companies like Google (GOOGL) and Facebook (FB) are blocked entirely in mainland China. (Microsoft services, including its Bing search engine and Skype video calling platform, are notably available in the country.)
“China does not actually ban American websites or software — it only requires them to ‘be Chinese’ as they operate in China,” wrote Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the Global Times, in a post on the Chinese social media website Weibo. “TikTok fully complies with US laws … but the US government still wants to ban it.”
“The US approach is much more determined and tough compared to the Chinese approach,” he added. Former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee made similar arguments in a WeChat post about TikTok that was reported widely in Chinese media, saying that Chinese laws are clear about what foreign companies can do to operate in China. In TikTok’s case, though, the company was left no choice but to consider a forced sale.
And Liu Hong, deputy editor-in-chief for the Globe — a magazine run by state-owned Xinhua News Agency — recently called the TikTok saga “too nasty.”
“It’s not just a shotgun wedding. But also a power grab,” he wrote in a post Sunday on the social media website WeChat. The post was later promoted by the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. “This is really sad for Bytedance.”
In an internal memo sent to employees on Monday, ByteDance CEO and founder Zhang Yiming acknowledged that the “past few months have been a challenging time for us all.”
“We initiated preliminary discussions with a tech company to help clear the way for us to continue offering the TikTok app in the US,” Zhang wrote in the memo, which ByteDance provided to CNN Business.
“We do not yet know the exact details of what our end solution will be,” he added.
“Candidly, it is unlikely that the level of interest and speculation around TikTok will cease in the short term, and I recognize that this can be very distracting.”
Chinese media has lamented ByteDance’s struggles in the United States. The national newspaper Guangming Daily on Monday held up the debate over TikTok as emblematic of the kind of experience that might await other Chinese companies with plans to expand beyond mainland China.
“Who is TikTok dancing for?” the newspaper asked in an editorial, adding that ByteDance’s “fortunes can’t be reversed by any business strategy and marketing approach.”
“It’s an object of reference for any Chinese company that wants to go global,” the paper added.