Washington’s ultimatum to the Chinese owner of TikTok—sell the app’s U.S. operations or leave the country—is hardening long-held suspicions in China that the U.S. aims to sabotage the country’s efforts to grow its technology, while raising concerns about the precedent it could set for Chinese companies with global ambitions as U.S.-China relations unravel.
After months in which TikTok owner Bytedance Ltd. fought to appease the Trump administration, Washington’s push for Bytedance to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft Corp. means China will likely lose control over its first true global internet sensation—one with ambitions of becoming a top-tier global technology giant—in its most important market.
Turning over the U.S. operations to Microsoft would also likely ripple across other Chinese internet companies that have harbored global aspirations, like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., whose mobile app WeChat has been mentioned by top U.S. officials as a potential target.
In the eyes of Beijing’s leadership, Washington’s move to strong-arm one of its most valuable global tech companies into selling a lucrative overseas unit is further proof that the U.S. views any Chinese tech company with international success as a challenge to its technology primacy, regardless of the product or how it runs its business.
For much of the past two years, Washington’s national-security concerns revolved around Huawei Technologies Co., a Chinese telecom giant that the U.S. has tried to blacklist world-wide with increasing effectiveness.
On Monday, Beijing—which has barred Silicon Valley’s biggest companies from gaining a foothold in China, saying they don’t adhere to Chinese law—slammed the U.S. move to force TikTok’s sale of its American unit as hypocritical, saying it reflected Washington’s double standards.
“Stop politicizing economic and trade issues, stop abusing the concept of national security and stop pursuing policies of discrimination and exclusion,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular briefing, in words aimed at Washington.