New York, United States:
A US judge on Sunday blocked the government’s ban on WeChat downloads hours before it was due to go into effect in an ongoing technology and espionage battle between Washington and Beijing.
The Trump administration had ordered a ban on downloading the WeChat messaging platform and the hugely popular TikTok video sharing app, both of which are owned by Chinese companies. Both bans have now been suspended.
A California court ruling said it had approved a “motion for a statewide injunction against the implementation” of the government order on WeChat, with the judge raising concerns about freedom of expression.
The order would have slowed WeChat down and made it unusable for video chatting with family and friends, according to experts in the US.
WeChat is owned by tech giant TenCent and has around 19 million daily active users in the US.
As President Donald Trump seeks a breakthrough with voters to win a second term in the November 3 election, he has increasingly placed national security and his aggressive stance on China at the center of his campaign.
He regularly accuses the Democratic opponent Joe Biden of weakness towards Beijing.
The president said Saturday that he approved a deal that will allow Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become a data partner for TikTok in an effort to prevent that app from shutting down.
The deal announced by the companies includes Walmart as a trading partner and would create a new US company called TikTok Global.
– National security threat? – –
TikTok – owned by China’s ByteDance – upheld the Oracle deal that came about when companies went against the Sunday deadline.
The US Department of Commerce announced on Saturday that it would postpone the ban on TikTok downloads until September 27, due to “recent positive developments”.
Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday accused China of using the two apps “to threaten national security, foreign policy and the US economy.”
WeChat is “primarily used by Chinese people visiting or working here, or Chinese-Americans who keep in touch with their relatives,” said William Reinsch of the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies.
This includes hundreds of thousands of Chinese students in the US who use it for daily online conversations.
Trump has often claimed without evidence that TikTok and WeChat collect user data for Beijing.
At the beginning of August he gave ByteDance until September 20 to hand over the US operations of TikTok to an American company.
TikTok’s brand of short, quirky phone videos has become a global phenomenon, especially among young people with 100 million users in the US alone.
China on Saturday condemned US “bullying” on the grounds that it violated international trade standards and that there was no evidence of a security threat.
China has also released its long-awaited list of “unreliable units”, which is seen as a weapon for Beijing to take revenge against the United States.
The Trump administration has used its own “Entity List” to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from the US market in addition to recent measures against TikTok and WeChat.
US officials have described Washington’s actions as essential to protecting against potential Chinese espionage through the platforms.
According to the US Treasury Department, the TikTok deal has yet to be finalized by the companies involved and approved by a federal national security committee.