China Uses TikTok to Expand Its Influence Globally, US Lawmaker Says

(Bloomberg) -- China is using TikTok to expand its influence around the world, a top Republican lawmaker said Monday in arguing that the popular video-sharing app that’s owned by a Beijing-based company should be banned in the US or sold off.

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Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, chairman of a new House committee scrutinizing China, argued for the urgency of decoupling the world’s two largest economies and pointed to the country’s bid for more influence overseas as a sign that it must be countered.

“The exact same strategy, tactics and technology that CCP uses to control the Chinese people in China are increasingly the same strategy, tactics and technology they’re using to control Americans,”Gallagher of Wisconsin told reporters, referring to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Gallagher’s new select committee is set to hold its first hearing on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Washington time, in the latest sign of an ever-deepening hawkishness toward Beijing by both parties on Capitol Hill.

That’s been fueled most recently by the uproar over an alleged Chinese spy balloon that flew over the US as well as Biden administration claims that China has considered whether to supply Russia with lethal support for its invasion of Ukraine.

China has dismissed what it called “hysteria” over the balloon and said it doesn’t offer weapons to conflict zones.

“Recently there has been too much disinformation about China in this regard,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a briefing Friday. He added that China’s position on Ukraine “boils down to one phrase: to advocate peace and promote talks.”

Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok representative, said in a statement that “It would be unfortunate if the House Foreign Affairs Committee were to censor millions of Americans, and do so based not on actual intelligence, but on a basic misunderstanding of our corporate structure.”

She added: “We are two years and $1.5 billion dollars deep into a project to go above and beyond existing law to secure the US version of the TikTok platform.”

One of the select committee’s goals is “to emerge with a coherent framework for selective economic and financial decoupling,” Gallagher told reporters. “In my opinion, this is the most difficult and complex aspect of our competition with China.”

Gallagher has been pushing legislation that would ban TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance Ltd., or force its sale. But his bill isn’t the only proposal seeking to limit the app’s operations in the US. The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday will debate and vote on a different TikTok measure, this one from Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, who has warned that other efforts to prohibit the app would be challenged on free speech issues.

“My bill empowers the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten US national security,” McCaul said. “And make no mistake – TikTok is a security threat. It allows the CCP to manipulate and monitor its users while it gobbles up Americans’ data to be used for their malign activities.”

Representative Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat, called that legislation “overly broad,” and said he wouldn’t support it.

Gallagher on Monday said he’s “very suspicious” of an agreement that TikTok has proposed to protect data from US users and insulate the platform from Chinese influence.

He said that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, of Cfius, which is reviewing TikTok’s operations, could be crippled by members representing the Treasury Department that “have been a bit less hawkish on China” than members from the Defense Department or the National Security Council.

The bipartisan House committee will review other aspects of US competition with China, including export controls and outbound investment review designed to limit US capital that Gallagher said could “unwittingly fund” human rights abuses or advances in military technology.

(Updates with TikTok comment, McCaul, Meeks comments, starting in eighth paragraph.)

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