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How China's internet is reacting to Trump's treatment of TikTok

The topic of Trump's executive orders against TikTok and WeChat has been viewed over 500 million times on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

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Reactions in China to Trump's orders effectively banning transactions with TikTok and WeChat were mixed.

Scott Olson/Getty

It's been several days since US President Donald Trump issued two late-night executive orders effectively banning transactions with TikTok-owner ByteDance and TenCent's popular (in China) messaging app WeChat. It's not yet clear what these orders will look like if they go into effect in the middle of September, though it likely means Apple and Google will be prohibited from carrying TikTok and WeChat on their stores.

The hashtag carrying the news has been seen over 520 million times on Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent. Reactions have been mixed. Some note that China, having banned platforms like Facebook for over a decade, can't pretend to hold any moral high ground. But most people on Weibo understandably voice frustration with the US' insistence that TikTok be bought by a US company or banned.

"American robbers rob quality global companies," read one typical post. A blogger pointed out that 89 percent of ByteDance's revenue comes from TikTok's Chinese app against only 6 percent from the US, yet ByteDance still donated millions to the global coronavirus response efforts. (The user was accurately referencing ByteDance's May numbers.) 

"Do you know why the United States has said that Chinese companies, communications, apps, etc. threaten American security?" asked one user. "Because American companies, communications, apps, etc. threaten the security of other countries, he thinks that these things in other countries are also like this."

Other comments sound distinctly like criticisms Western governments would make about China, asserting the US is attempting to control the flow of information its population sees: "This is to maintain the hegemony of information dissemination in the United States. If you control the dissemination of information, you can control the way of thinking of ordinary people. Apart from China, the basic information dissemination in the world is firmly in the hands of the United States."

State media has bemoaned the executive orders, calling them politicized attempts to "decouple" the US' tech sector from China's. "Washington's attack on TikTok is just an appetizer among a wave of purge [sic] of Chinese internet companies in the US market," warns the state-controlled Global Times

This line of thinking has some users worried, reasoning that everyone will be disadvantaged by the US and China further decoupling. Many expressed rage against Trump, but others appeared to be more anxious than angry:

"Both the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States are in unanimous synchronization, and no one sympathizes with China," one concerned comment read. "Don't imagine that China will have a good life if [Trump steps down]. On the contrary, if he steps down, Sino-US relations will only get colder and colder. 

"The new cold war in 2020 has begun."

iPhone users in China might not be able to download or use WeChat if Trump's executive order goes into effect. The majority of the app's 1.2 billion users are in China.

Angela Lang/CNET

Apple or WeChat?

Though Trump's executive order against TikTok is a big deal in the US, the executive order against WeChat is more significant in China. It potentially means that China's iPhone users, who number well over 100 million, won't be able to download or use WeChat anymore. 

Though it's technically a messaging app, WeChat is a platform more akin to Facebook. TenCent doesn't release numbers breaking down users by country, but the majority of the app's 1.2 billion users are in China.

This led a news agency to ask a question of Weibo users: Apple or WeChat? The overwhelming majority of respondents -- 750,000 out of 800,000 -- said they'd buy a new phone rather than find a WeChat substitute. "Apple or WeChat," one user wrote in a separate post, "it's time to choose."

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It seems that the United States really is bullying!" said one user, noting that the country is following Russia's footsteps in banning WeChat. 

The opportunity to emphasize how the executive order could backfire for Apple was not missed by state media.

"US President Donald Trump's bullying of Chinese company Tencent might end up striking a much heavier blow to Apple with the potential loss of the vast majority of its Chinese users, who help to generate up to 20 percent of the company's global sales, while at the same time boosting the sales of other mobile brands, such as Huawei, that Trump has always wanted to crush," reads a Global Times report

Trump's executive orders against WeChat and ByteDance come after six weeks of increasingly tough action against Beijing. The White House has sanctioned an elite Chinese official over treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, declared China's expansions into the South China Sea illegal and ordered the closure of a Chinese embassy in Houston.

Some on Weibo have taken Trump's actions as being more anti-Chinese than anti-Beijing: 

"I have every reason to believe that Trump will tweet someday in the future: "No Chinese are allowed in the United States. All Chinese are spies, endangering the national security of the United States, stealing many important secrets, confiscating all Chinese property and confiscating them," one disgruntled user posted.

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