From The Verge: Last night, the Trump administration issued a pair of stunning executive orders against Chinese technology companies, banning US transactions with the companies after a deadline of September 20th. Most of the immediate focus has been on TikTok, which was targeted through its parent company ByteDance — but the second order could have a far more unpredictable impact, targeting text app WeChat and its parent company Tencent.
Tencent is one of the largest tech companies in the world, and it’s spent the last few years buying stakes in video game studios, music companies, and social media apps. It’s bigger than ByteDance, and with significant ownership stakes in Snap, Blizzard, Spotify, and others, it’s far more embedded in the global tech industry. Yesterday’s order made those connections much more dangerous, even if they fall outside the narrow legal consequences of the order. As Tencent responds and its business partners are forced to choose sides, the consequences could be far broader than the White House realizes — and far more damaging to the average consumer.
For now, the main concern is WeChat, Tencent’s China-based chat app. The executive order is intended to target WeChat specifically, an anonymous White House official told LA Times reporter Sam Dean. However, we won’t know until the 45-day grace period is up which “transactions” are actually prohibited — for instance, whether it applies to money sent through WeChat or whether it will apply to money transferred between Tencent subsidiaries. “We are reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding,” a Tencent representative told The New York Times.
WeChat is the dominant chat app in China and a ubiquitous tool for payments, shopping, and business transactions. Many companies large and small are run almost entirely through it, and its immense footprint in China has led to some spillover usage in the United States. (Analysts estimate there are around 1.5 million US WeChat users, compared to 1 billion in China.) WeChat is also deeply embedded in China’s various systems of censorship and surveillance, and there are real security concerns for the minority of users outside China. If all the order does is block Americans’ ability to use WeChat, the impact will be fairly limited.
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