WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump said he is considering banning the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic, remarks China described Wednesday as “a malicious smear”.
TikTok has been caught up in the escalating disputes between the United States and China, with the Chinese-owned firm accused of acting as a spying tool for Beijing — an allegation it denies.
“It’s something we’re looking at,” Trump said during a TV interview on Tuesday when asked about a possible ban, according to Bloomberg News.
“It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”
Trump did not provide any details, and told Gray Television that it was “one of many” options he was considering against China, Bloomberg added.
The United States is the country worst-hit by the virus, which the American president has blamed on poor management and a lack of transparency in China — which has rejected the allegation.
“The remarks made by some politicians in the US are totally groundless and a malicious smear,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Wednesday when asked about Trump’s comments on TikTok and China’s role in the pandemic.
“The Chinese government has always asked Chinese businesses to conduct cooperation overseas on the basis of law and compliance,” he told a regular press briefing.
Trump’s comments came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government was looking at banning Chinese apps — including TikTok — over espionage concerns.
TikTok is estimated to have close to one billion users worldwide, but despite the huge popularity, it has long battled allegations that it is a spying tool for Beijing, with critics pointing to the fact that it is owned by a Chinese firm — ByteDance.
The firm has consistently stressed that it does not share user information with the Chinese government.
“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US,” a TikTok spokesperson told Bloomberg.
“We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
TikTok has been caught up in another international spat too — it was among the dozens of Chinese apps banned by India over national security concerns after a deadly border clash between its soldiers and Chinese troops.
And on Monday, TikTok said it was pulling out of Hong Kong after a new national security law imposed by China gave authorities sweeping powers to police the internet.