With TikTok, Donald Trump is adding State Department coercion to his “art of the deal” toolkit. After months of feigned concern that the viral TikTok app represents a “trojan horse” for the Communist Party of China to access U.S. consumer data, the Trump Administration issued the Chinese company an ultimatum: sell the app to a U.S. buyer, or be shut down.
Microsoft has stepped forward as a potential buyer of TikTok, a clone of the Chinese video app Douyin tailored for a Western audience. The app boasts some 100 million U.S. users and its parent company, ByteDance, has been valued at $100 billion.
Microsoft's advances, coupled with Trump’s stipulation that TikTok pay “a substantial amount of money” to the U.S. Treasury for facilitating the transaction, makes clear that this is not about protecting consumer data. Certainly, neither Silicon Valley nor Washington have legitimate concerns over security issues given the longstanding, well-documented collaborations between tech giants Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and others and the NSA, CIA, FBI, and ICE. But consumer protection is a convenient cover story for what’s really happening: the forced sale of TikTok under political duress is nothing more than a tag-teamed State Department/Silicon Valley highway robbery.
The TikTok saga is part of a larger geopolitical strategy to obstruct, isolate, and derail China’s burgeoning tech industry. China has identified technological innovation, via its innovative Made in China 2025 (MIC 25) initiative, as the cornerstone of its broader efforts to climb the manufacturing value chain and shed its role as the “world’s factory” to enter the domain of innovation and high-tech manufacturing. This top end of the value chain has historically been the exclusive domain of the U.S., Europe, and strategic allies such as Japan and South Korea.