October 28, 2020 | By Charlie Rahr

The Trump Administration sees TikTok and WeChat as National Security Threats. Do Americans feel the same?

In early August, President Trump signed executive orders aimed at ending the use of two Chinese-owned mobile applications, WeChat and TikTok, in the United States. Starting on September 20, the orders direct US companies to neither provide updates nor allow downloads of these apps. According to the Commerce Department, WeChat and TikTok are national security threats as they are “active participant[s] in China’s civil-military fusion and [are] subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP.” This means that the apps’ users could have their data, such as location tracking and search histories, shared with the Chinese intelligence services. There are worries that such data collected by TikTok could then be employed to blackmail users or promote disinformation campaigns. However, there is little evidence this has occurred.

A national online poll of 1988 registered voters, ages 18 to over 65, conducted by Morning Consult from September 18-20 sheds some light on how Americans see these bans. A plurality of respondents (41%) expressed some level of support for them, with a significant portion (31%) either lacking awareness of them or declining to express an opinion. Perhaps in a telling sign of TikTok’s younger user base, the respondents of Generation Z (1997-2012) expressed the strongest opposition of all generations surveyed. Half (51%) oppose the bans, with 38 percent of this amount being strongly opposed to them. On the whole, around nine in ten (93%) of those polled responded that they had no plans to download WeChat before the scheduled ban on September 20, while eight in ten (80%) had no such plans to download TikTok.

More than half of those polled (58%) noted that President Trump’s decision to bar downloads of WeChat and TikTok had not changed their vote in next month’s presidential election. Moreover, a plurality of respondents (39%) see them as having no effect on how they view the Trump administration.

Neither of the bans took effect on schedule. A federal judge in California blocked the order against WeChat over free speech concerns while a judge in Washington, DC did the same for TikTok but on the basis that its ban is not justified under national security laws.

There may be more good news on the horizon for TikTok as President Trump gave consent to a deal last month that could salvage the company’s US operations. The deal calls for the creation of TikTok Global, a new US-based venture that would see the American software company, Oracle, along with Walmart owning a combined 20 percent stake in it. Under this arrangement, Oracle would be in charge of hosting American users’ data and protecting TikTok’s computer systems, hopefully assuaging the administration’s concerns over the Chinese government’s access to Americans’ data. Before this deal can be finalized, it must be approved by the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a panel charged with reviewing US business transactions with foreign involvement.

Despite considerable talk in business and government circles, the bans on WeChat and TikTok do not seem to register much on most Americans’ radar. However, as the competition between the US and China escalates, this issue may return as yet another source of friction in the countries’ relationship.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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| By Craig Kafura

Americans and Asia in 2020: Three Things to Know

With the US election drawing near, all eyes are on the United States and the choices the public is about to make. As Americans go to the polls, here are three key things to know about American views of Asia and the key issues in the region.