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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Ideas Explained: What is the geopolitics of TikTok

The new American consensus appears to be in sync with India’s own recent turn towards decoupling from China, writes C Raja Mohan.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 5, 2020 9:40:41 am
TikTok, US TikTok ban, TikTok ban, TikTok Microsoft, Trump on TikTok, US China ties, China, China news, Indian Express China and US flags are seen near a TikTok logo in this illustration picture taken July 16, 2020. (Reuters/Florence Lo/Illustration)

Since Delhi’s announcement banning TikTok and other Chinese apps in June, there has been talk of similar actions by Washington. US President Donald Trump is doing one better than the NDA government. Like Delhi, Washington too is citing national security concerns about the widespread use of Chinese apps.

Rather than simply ban TikTok, Washington is “persuading” ByteDance, the Chinese internet company that owns TikTok, to hand over its business to the US technology giant, Microsoft.

“Trump now seems to have embarked on a more consequential mission at home to redefine ties between US and Chinese technology companies that flourished in recent years,” writes C Raja Mohan, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

“On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated that the takeover of TikTok is just the first step. The administration is expected to follow through with additional steps against Chinese apps in the days ahead”.

In a hard-hitting speech last month, the US Attorney General William Barr reminded Apple, Google, Microsoft and Disney not to forget their American identity and their obligations under US law.

Might this offensive against the extended nexus between the US companies and China come to an end if Joe Biden wins the presidency in November?

TikTok, US TikTok ban, TikTok ban, TikTok Microsoft, Trump on TikTok, US China ties, China, China news, Indian Express Like Delhi, Washington too is citing national security concerns about the widespread use of Chinese apps. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

“The ‘deep state’ in Washington appears to have made up its mind on the urgency of coping with the Chinese digital threats,” believes Raja Mohan. The new American consensus appears to be in sync with India’s own recent turn towards decoupling from China and the plan to rearrange its digital engagement with the world within a framework of trusted political partnerships.

Although total digital decoupling between US and China might take a long time, if it happens at all, new rules are emerging to define terms of engagement

Many in Washington are now convinced that it was a terrible mistake for the US to have believed that global trade and technology flows after the Cold War were geopolitically neutral.

Also read | Explained Ideas: The lessons for public policy from the Covid-19 experience

“The new American consensus appears to be in sync with India’s own recent turn towards decoupling from China and the plan to rearrange its digital engagement with the world within a framework of trusted political partnerships,” he concludes.

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