Chinese State media have let their readers know what the regime thinks of the Oracle/Walmart TikTok takeover and it appears that the gloves have come off.
The stories contain choice phrases such as “banditry of the White House”, “the United States used the pretext of national security to carry out coercive transactions” and “indiscriminate crackdown on TikTok”.
One paragraph even seems designed to remind US president Donald Trump that he co-authored a book titled The Art of the Deal. The paragraph follows:
The art of deals helps only when it can ensure that any deal reached is fair and mutually beneficial. Any deal ByteDance makes has to be approved by Beijing to go ahead, and Beijing is unlikely to condone the White House's strong-arm acquisition. After all, no deal is better than a deal made under duress.
The stories also accuse the US of singling out TikTok for action when other social networks collect similar data from consumers and disregarding the norms of international trade and business in ways that won’t be good for anyone, anywhere.
China is willing to have its state media use such strong language because it will play well at home and also reflects genuine frustration at having an instrument of soft power taken out of its hands. China has explicitly sought to nurture consumer electronics and social media companies with global footprints. With Huawei nobbled and the Trump administration permitting TikTok to operate only without Chinese influence, Beijing’s aspirations are being stymied.
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Which makes China Daily’s news that ByteDance has applied for an export permit important, because China’s regulations on such matters recently added AI and pushing personalised information to the list of technologies that need approval before they can be sold outside the Middle Kingdom.
ByteDance, TikTok’s current owner, has said it will comply with that law. And as TikTok’s success has been widely ascribed to an AI-infused algorithm that keeps feeding users what they want to see, the social network’s buyers could be offered an inferior product.
Sorting out this mess will surely require some artful dealing, in both Beijing and the White House. ®