The closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston threatens to ignite a new diplomatic row between China and the US, with Beijing accusing the US of giving it only 72 hours to shut the diplomatic mission in a move it described as “unprecedented” and an “outrageous” escalation.
According to China, the US would have told Houston’s Chinese consulate on 21 July to abruptly cease all operations and events. In response, Beijing would have threatened retaliation if the decision was not withdrawn. This move constitutes the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the two superpowers.
The US State Department said in a statement that the closure was announced in order to protect American intellectual property and private information. This action swiftly follows a US Department of Justice indictment of two Chinese hackers accused of trying to steal trade secrets from hundreds of global targets and, more recently, probing for vulnerabilities in US companies involved in the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said the Chinese consulate in Houston was operating normally, following local media reports on Tuesday night that documents were being burned in a courtyard at the consulate. Texas fire and police officers responded to the reports of a fire. It was not clear if they were permitted to enter the consulate or not.
“China strongly condemns such an outrageous and unjustified move, which will sabotage China-US relations,” Wenbin told reporters at a regular news briefing on Wednesday. “We urge the US to immediately withdraw its erroneous decision, otherwise China will make legitimate and necessary reactions.”
To this, the State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus answered: “The United States will not tolerate the PRC’s violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behaviour.”
But China didn’t wait before retaliating. The Chinese foreign ministry said its embassy in the US had received bomb and death threats, which it blamed the US for “fanning hatred against China.” Beijing also accused US diplomats of being engaged in “infiltration and interference activities.”
“If we compare the two, it is only too evident which is engaged in interference, infiltration and confrontation,” said the Chinese foreign ministry’s statement.
Following months of rising tensions over China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just announced on Monday that the US is considering a ban on Chinese social media apps such as the video-sharing platform TikTok. This news doesn’t really come as a surprise as it had already been discussed for a while whether TikTok being a Chinese-owned company presents data privacy concerns. Could this truly be the end of TikTok?
Speaking to Fox News, Pompeo said: “We are taking this very seriously. We are certainly looking at it. With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cell phones, the United States will get this one right too.” Responding to this in a written statement, a TikTok spokesperson wrote on Tuesday: “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S. We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
While this first assertion is true as ByteDance, which is the Chinese company that owns TikTok, recently appointed Kevin Mayer as the new CEO of the video-sharing app. However, many have expressed that, while this change might be a first step in the right direction, more power-shifting would be needed for TikTok to be trusted.
Similarly to the US, last week the Indian government announced that it would ban TikTok and other popular Chinese-owned apps such as WeChat over allegations that they are “engaged in activities prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India.” TikTok responded to these statements by saying: “TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government.”
When asked by Fox News’ Laura Ingraham what he thought of US citizens using TikTok, Pompeo answered with: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” making it clear that this potential new ban was specifically concerning the video-sharing app.
It has become clear that since the app exploded in popularity in the US and other western countries, making it the first Chinese social media platform to gain such traction with users outside of China, TikTok has also been tied to important data privacy concerns. With India and the US both threatening to ban the app in their respective countries, it looks like this is just the first few roadblocks TikTok will encounter. While this is not the end of the app’s golden age just yet, it certainly looks like things are about to go down in the near future.
Only time will tell, but until then, make sure to read more about the many different risks TikTok represents in order to protect your personal data while still binge-watching funny videos.