China's foreign ministry firmly opposes executive orders announced by US President Donald Trump banning US transactions with the Chinese owners of messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok, Beijing said yesterday.
Beijing will defend the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese businesses and the United States would have to bear the consequences of its actions, ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters during a daily briefing, without giving details.
"The US is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses. That's just a hegemonic practice. China is firmly opposed to that," he said.
The US executive orders, which will be effective in 45 days, come after the Trump administration announced its efforts to purge "untrusted" Chinese apps from US digital networks and called WeChat, controlled by Tencent Holdings Ltd, and ByteDance's TikTok "significant threats."
Wang said that the United States was sacrificing the interests of users and companies and engaging in political manipulation and oppression, adding that it "will only lose its moral high ground with a damaged image and a deficit of trust".
TikTok has come under fire from US lawmakers over national security concerns surrounding data collection as distrust between Washington and Beijing grows. Reuters on Sunday reported that Trump has given Microsoft Corp 45 days to complete the purchase of TikTok's US operations.
"We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process," TikTok said in a statement on Friday, adding that it would "pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded".
The ban on US transactions with Tencent, one of the world's biggest internet companies, portends further fracturing of the global internet and severing of long-standing ties between the tech industries in the United States and China.
"This is the rupture in the digital world between the US and China," said James Lewis, a technology expert with Washington-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Absolutely, China will retaliate."
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expanded a program dubbed "Clean Network" to prevent various Chinese apps and telecoms firms from accessing sensitive information on US citizens and businesses.
Trump's new orders appeared coordinated with Pompeo's announcement, Lewis said.
"We are reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding," a Tencent spokesperson said.
ByteDance declined to comment.
WeChat has been downloaded a relatively small 19 million times in the United States, showed data from Sensor Tower. In China, however, the app is ubiquitous as a medium for services as varied as games and payment. It is also a common platform to communicate with individuals and businesses outside China.
US social media and messaging services such Facebook Inc's WhatsApp and Messenger are blocked in China, where a "great firewall" prevents citizens from freely accessing the worldwide web, and where online communication is routinely monitored and censored.
US concerns about China's tech industry had until recently focused on telecom equipment vendor Huawei Technologies Co Ltd . As relations soured over a host of economic and human rights issues, it has sanctioned numerous other Chinese tech firms.
Tencent is the biggest target yet. It is Asia's second most-valuable company after Alibaba Group Holding Ltd with a market capitalization of $686 billion, and is among the world's largest social media and video game companies. It opened a California gaming studio this summer and owns minority stakes in numerous gaming and internet firms around the world, including US messaging app operator Snap Inc.
Tension has been simmering between the two powers for months, with the United States taking issue with China's handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. The increasingly aggressive posture towards China comes as Trump bids for re-election in November.
The United States is not alone in its concern about Chinese internet apps: WeChat and TikTok were among 59 mostly Chinese apps that India outlawed in June for threatening its "sovereignty and integrity".
It was not clear whether the sanction would effect Tencent's other holdings in the country.