With a larger user base than TikTok, the Trump administration threat on WeChat shines a light on the caveat that big tech faces in the United States, as a state-enforced ban hurts Apple’s presence in the billion-user market that Mainland China represents. For millions of Chinese citizens, their daily lives rely on the use of the app, which connects them with the world in many ways: From chatting with friends and family to remittances, payment of services, and more.
WeChat’s penetration in the Chinese population is so deep that many Chinese citizens had the multi-purpose Tencent-developed app before acquiring an email address. Part of a larger plan by the Trump administration to exert digital supremacy in the cybersecurity sector. Tencent is China’s second most valuable company —Jack Ma’s AliBaba.com, the Chinese Amazon leads the sector—whose stakes in several videogame companies like Blizzard Entertainment, Epic Games, and League of Legends.
The unparalleled access that Chinese authorities have upon its citizens by allowing Tencent’s WeChat to operate tracking the unsurmountable amount of personal information has no boundaries. In other parts of the world, like the United States, governments are zealous about protecting their citizen’s private information. If WeChat’s presence in the United States is so small, why is the American government so focused on banning the app in their territory? The answer is complicated.
Over the past twenty years, the government of the People’s Republic of China decided to invest heavily in telecommunications, developing a massive R&D park. And they’re reaping the results.
China’s Strategy to Stay on Top of the Tech Game
China has major reasons to seek research and development in the technology and telecommunications sector. First, they actively increase their domestic participation in knowledge creation, accumulation, and diffusion. To do so, they increase domestic technological capacity, massive campuses, laboratories, and industrial parks with aims of attracting foreign investors and technologies. Once they manage to do that, they create conditions that generate training that benefits domestic industrial development.
With companies like Huawei and ZTE, also in the telecommunications sector, Tencent’s role in data management puts Chinese innovation and technology as a stepping stone for the global flow of information and transaction. The United States doesn’t want China to have a noticeable dominion of global communications in an era where lockdowns due to Coronavirus spikes severely hampered the global workforce.
Who Opposes The US WeChat Ban?
The US government push to ban WeChat from its territory finds strong opposition in Corporate America. The ACLU, a left-of-center think tank, has their lawyers arguing for freedom of speech and association, the constitutional provision in the United States. On the other side, Corporate America, an influential group of companies that engage in commercial activity in China.
If the WeChat ban takes place, Apple has to remove WeChat from the App Store, rendering millions of iOS devices in Mainland China unusable as their owners would need another phone to conduct their day-to-day operations. A market that domestic manufacturers like Huawei, ZTE, and Xiaomi will cater to many new alternatives.