What China Is Saying About the TikTok Furor in Washington

This is not the first time that China has seen a frenzy over TikTok consume Washington.

In 2020, former President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order that would have forced TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell the popular app. But Beijing foiled a takeover bid by American buyers by slapping curbs on technology exports. Last year, Montana lawmakers enacted a ban on TikTok in the state, but the law was blocked by a federal judge before it could take effect.

Now, U.S. lawmakers are again attempting to force ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese owner, to give up control of the app. On Wednesday, the House passed a bill, by a 352 to 65 vote, that would force ByteDance to either sell the app or see it banned in the United States.

But the fervor has not yet triggered a high-alert response from China’s leaders or prompted retaliatory threats against American companies. Instead, officials in Beijing have blasted the bill but largely reiterated common criticisms of U.S. policy as unfair to China.

There are several reasons for their restraint, experts said. Despite the bill’s bipartisan support in the House, it faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. Mr. Trump, the expected Republican presidential nominee, has said he opposes the bill despite his 2020 executive order against TikTok. And China has legal tools it could use to attempt to block any sale.

“China is not ready to pull the trigger outright for a full scale retaliation against what the United States is doing,” said Scott Kennedy, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

TikTok wields wide influence in the United States, particularly among younger people. It has an estimated 170 million users in the United States, up from 100 million in 2020. It has an even bigger global footprint, with an estimated one billion users across 140 countries. ByteDance’s Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, had more than 600 million daily active users by mid-2020, the last time it reported those statistics.

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