Mar 23, 2023
TikTok CEO Shou Chew to Face Lawmakers Calling for US Ban
(Bloomberg) -- The Republican chair of the committee that will hear from TikTok’s chief executive officer on Thursday plans to tell him that his app should be banned in the US and its popularity exposes a vulnerability that could be exploited by China.
“When you celebrate the 150 million American users on TikTok, it emphasized the urgency for Congress to act,” Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, will say to Shou Chew, according to excerpts of her prepared remarks.
“That is 150 million Americans that the CCP can collect sensitive information on, and control what we ultimately see, hear and believe,” she added, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
The hearing comes at an existential moment for the platform, as the Biden administration has already told TikTok to seek new ownership or face prohibition. Congress is considering several bills that could ban the app in the US if the company’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd, doesn’t sell its shares.
The prospect of Chew’s testimony touched off a flurry of maneuvering by TikTok and its opponents, as they sought to gain control of the narrative by releasing testimony in advance and firing off fact sheets to journalists.
Senator Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat who introduced a bill that could ban the app, said in a statement that TikTok’s “lack of transparency, repeated obfuscations, and misstatements of fact have severely undermined the credibility of any statements by TikTok employees, including Mr. Chew.”
TikTok isn’t the only Chinese technology of concern in US government circles. On Wednesday evening, a group of venture capitalists, including Peter Thiel, hosted a dinner attended by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other Republican and Democratic lawmakers, to highlight what they describe as the risks of China abusing other technologies, like AI and quantum computing.
Overnight, a spokesperson for China’s commerce ministry said the government would firmly oppose any sale of TikTok forced by Washington, warning that such a move would “seriously undermine the confidence of investors from all countries including China to invest in the US.”
Chew, a Harvard-educated native of Singapore, in his opening remarks will acknowledge the hostile attitude he’ll face on Capitol Hill. Tiktok has spent some $1.5 billion on an initiative known as Project Texas to address US data security concerns.
“I know that trust is something that is earned through action, not words,” Chew plans to say in his prepared remarks. “I welcome the opportunity to discuss not only our commitments, but also tangible evidence from TikTok’s efforts to become a leader in safety and security.”
Chew, as he has before, will insist that ByteDance is “not an agent of China,” according to his prepared remarks. Lawmakers have pointed to a Chinese law that compels the country’s companies and citizens to turn over any information at the request of authorities — a requirement they say is incompatible with Chew’s claim of independence.
Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, on Wednesday said that when he met with Chew in private, the TikTok executive acknowledged that the app’s data would be subject to China’s intelligence law.
“In my office, he said that was true, that that representation of the law is true,” Bennett said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Balance of Power. “I can tell you I found him completely unconvincing on the stuff that I cared about.”
Tiktok sought to counter that claim in a fact sheet distributed Wednesday night. It denied that “the Chinese government can compel ByteDance to share American TikTok user data.”
TikTok is is incorporated in California and Delaware, and is subject to US laws and regulations governing privacy and data security,” the company said. “Under Project Texas, all protected U.S. data will be stored exclusively in the U.S. and under the control of the U.S.-led security team.”
Count McMorris Rodgers among the skeptics. According to excerpts of her opening statement, she plans to say that “TikTok has repeatedly been caught in the lie that it does not answer to the CCP through ByteDance.”
--With assistance from Vlad Savov and Fran Wang.
(Updates with Chinese government’s response in eighth paragraph)
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