China trolls Trump with tech export rules changes that could imperil TikTok sale

Won’t somebody think of Microsoft and Oracle? Or Huawei, which says it’s too poor to sponsor an Australian football team


China has added new technologies to its export control list and by doing so could derail the sale of Tiktok’s US operations.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Friday posted changes to its list of technologies that can’t be exported and/or require a permit to send offshore.

State media outlet Xinhua reports that two new entries cover "personalized information push service technology based on data analysis" and "artificial intelligence interactive interface technology."

The organ also quotes Professor Cui Fan from the University of International Business and Economics as saying that the two new listings are just the sort of thing that TikTok developer ByteDance probably uses. Which could mean that Microsoft, Oracle and other US-based bidders for bits of TikTok could either be denied their prey or face a review that makes the purchase process painful.

Analysis

China is enormously proud of TikTok because the service is the first Middle Kingdom app other than a game to really make a mark on Western culture. State media uses that success as an example of Chinese businesses being able to match any nation or firm, an interpretation that also says bans of TikTok are the petty acts of rival nations who resort to unfairly crimping competition rather than acknowledge China’s rise.

China could decide to make ByteDance wear the pain of not being able to sell its US operations, continue to celebrate TikTok’s success and explain its withdrawal from overseas markets as a necessary defensive measure. As TikTok does not operate in China, domestic audiences may accept that explanation.

Or China could decide to let ByteDance sell but conduct a review of TikTok’s tech, a process that could make Microsoft, Oracle and other suitors wait to seal a deal. Perhaps even wait beyond the November deadline to do a deal imposed by president Trump. Such delays would not leave the Tweeter-In-Chief looking particularly potent, an outcome that accords with US intelligence agencies’ assessment belief that China wants Trump to lose the forthcoming US presidential election.

Or perhaps China just wants to show the USA, and the rest of the world, that the export controls they’ve used to make life hard for Huawei can cut both ways.

Huawei, meanwhile, has cut short one of its big soft power plays - sponsorship of Australian Rugby League Team the Canberra Raiders. The deal will end a year early with Huawei saying a “continued negative business environment is having a larger than originally forecasted impact on our planned revenue stream and therefore we will have to terminate our major sponsorship of the Raiders at the end of the 2020 season.”

Huawei will retain naming rights of the new “Huawei Raiders Training Centre in Canberra” and says it “will continue to be important showcase of our technology.” ®


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