Late Thursday, the Trump administration issued an executive order that could pull WeChat, China’s most important app, from Apple and Google stores across the world and prevent American companies from doing business with its parent company, Tencent. Light on details, the decree could prove cosmetic, crushing or something in between.
Taken together with Thursday’s twin order against the Chinese-owned video app TikTok, the move against WeChat marks a shift in the American approach to the Great Firewall, which for years has kept companies like Facebook and Google from operating in China. Restricting WeChat and TikTok could be the first steps in an eye-for-an-eye reprisal.
Paul Mozur and Raymond Zhong of The Times write:
In China, WeChat does more than any app rightfully should. People use it to talk, shop, share photos, pay bills, get their news and send money.
With much of the Chinese internet locked behind a wall of filters and censors, the country’s everything app is also one of the few digital bridges connecting China to the rest of the world. It is the way exchange students talk to their families, immigrants keep up with relatives and much of the Chinese diaspora swaps memes, gossip and videos.
If the Trump administration’s executive order is enforced strongly when it takes effect in 45 days, it will take dead aim at China’s single most groundbreaking internet product, which 1.2 billion people use every month. An effective ban on the app in the United States would cut short millions of conversations between investors, business partners, family members and friends. The threat alone will likely start a new chapter in the deepening standoff between China and the United States over the future of technology.