China said it would oppose efforts by the United States to force a sale of TikTok, in a public rebuke of the Biden administration’s stance against the app’s Chinese ownership.
The comments, made by China’s commerce ministry on Thursday, came hours before TikTok’s chief executive was scheduled to testify before Congress for the first time, addressing American lawmakers’ distrust of the popular short-form video app’s handling of U.S. user data.
A commerce ministry spokeswoman said at a news conference that China would “firmly oppose” the sale of the app. Forcing such a transaction would “seriously undermine the confidence of investors from various countries, including China, to invest in the United States,” she added.
Last week, news emerged that the Biden administration wanted TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the app or face a possible ban. The ultimatum came after negotiations between the White House and TikTok’s ownership on a less severe compromise.
U.S. lawmakers and regulators fear that the Chinese government’s broad power over private companies in the country could enable authorities in Beijing to access the data of American users.
The commerce ministry indicated that any sale involving the export of technology must be in accordance with Chinese laws. Beijing has been mulling rules to protect China’s own prized technologies from being exported, and TikTok’s most valuable technology, analysts say, is its recommendations algorithm.
TikTok came up with a proposal last year, called Project Texas, to allay national security concerns. TikTok would remain owned by ByteDance, but would put all of the data generated by American users on domestic servers operated and run by Oracle, the software giant in Austin, Texas. Only Oracle and U.S.-based TikTok employees would have access to the accounts and data of U.S. users, TikTok said.
Mr. Chew is expected to continue promoting the plan in his testimony before Congress, where lawmakers are expected to ask him tough questions about the company’s efforts to secure American user data, its ties to its Chinese parent company and the risks the app may pose to teenagers and children.
In his written testimony ahead of the hearing, Mr. Chew said that ByteDance is a global company owned by international investors as well as employees. “Let me state this unequivocally: ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” he said.
TikTok and ByteDance did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
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