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As US and China relations seemingly grow more frigid by the passing day, a dozen US senators unveiled legislation directed at TikTok on Tuesday called the Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology (RESTRICT) Act.
The Restrict Act would permit the US commerce secretary to review and, under certain conditions, ban technologies flagged by US intelligence as a credible threat to domestic national security.
On Wednesday the Biden Administration threatened a nationwide ban on TikTok unless its Chinese owner promised to sell its stake in the company, TikTok confirmed to TIME. The recent divestiture demand was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The ultimatum by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) marks a major public escalation by White House officials in the long-running negotiations between the company’s Beijing-headquartered owner ByteDance and federal officials who say that TikTok’s link to China poses a potential national security threat.
Since its launch in 2016, the app has grown in popularity to over 1 billion active users, including more than 100 million in the U.S.
Yet, its growth comes with concerns from federal officials and security experts that China’s Communist Party could have unlimited access to sensitive data the company collects on Americans.
Both sides agree TikTok could pose a national security threat
“TikTok is a modern-day Trojan horse of the [Chinese Communist Party], used to surveil and exploit Americans’ personal information,” Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said last month. “It’s a spy balloon in your phone.”
“Unlike most social media platforms, TikTok poses a unique concern because Chinese law obligates ByteDance, its Beijing-based parent company, to ‘support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work,'” Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in a letter to the tech giants’ CEOs. Days after Bennet’s letter, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told ABC’s “This Week” that a TikTok ban “should be looked at.”
Privacy concerns have only been exacerbated in recent weeks after the aforementioned Chinese spying balloons which were shot down within the US and Latin America.
Xi to meet with Putin next week in Moscow
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in Aug. 2022 amid threats of Chinese retaliation during the controversial two-day trip that included a meeting with their president about preserving democracy on the self-ruled island in the face of threats from mainland China.
Additionally, Chinese leader Xi Jinping will travel to Russia next week at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced Friday.
It will be Xi’s first visit to Moscow since Putin launched his devastating invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.
During the visit, Xi and Putin will discuss “strategic cooperation” between the two countries, according to the Kremlin.
The US has spent over $80 billion in Ukraine
Before Pres. Biden’s pledge in Ukraine in February, the US had already committed nearly $80 billion in aid to Ukraine, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which tracks global spending on aid to Ukraine.
By the Western world throwing its support behind Ukraine throughout the year-long conflict, though deadly and devastating, Putin’s invasion has not gone according to plan. With no other country willing to sponsor his murderous tirade against the Ukrainian people, Xi and China stand as Putin’s last chance to further his dictatorial regime.
While the high stakes meeting has yet to take place, TikTok remains adamant that the CFIUS’s divestiture demand will not address security concerns. “If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement to TIME.
“The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing,” said the spokesperson.
The app was banned on government devices and school campuses in a number of states in recent months, as well as on federal devices after a ban was passed in Congress in December.
As US and China diplomacy talks have seemed to stall, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify next week on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both parties are expected to question him over the security risks in the popular video-sharing app.