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WeChat app thrust into US-China tech fray

(China Daily)    14:24, July 17, 2020

WeChat, an essential tool used by overseas Chinese to stay in touch with friends and families, has become the latest tech component caught in the crosshairs of the Trump administration's increased scrutiny of Chinese technologies over alleged national security breaches.

"Whether the Trump administration will go ahead with such a ban, I cannot say, but I consider the proposed policy to be misguided at best. WeChat is a social media platform that is primarily used by Chinese nationals, but also by many people abroad who have friends and colleagues from China," said Eric Heikkila, an urban development and public policy specialist at the University of Southern California.

"This is a time that we should be fostering stronger interpersonal ties between regular people in both countries. The damage caused by disrupting such genuine grassroots ties almost certainly outweighs the purported security risks," he added.

Shortly after the US announced it's considering clamping down on the Chinese app TikTok, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News on July 12 that the Trump administration would not rule out the possibility of banning TikTok and WeChat in the country to protect American citizens' data privacy.

"TikTok and WeChat are the biggest forms of censorship on the Chinese mainland, and so expect strong action on that," Navarro said.

A Trump administration official said Wednesday that Chinese social media applications are being reviewed for potential national security exposure. An action on the issue could come in weeks, the White House official added.

However, the administration has yet to lay out specific plans to implement such a ban. It is also unclear to what extent the restrictions would apply to users of the app.

Tencent Holdings Ltd, the Chinese technology behemoth that owns the messaging application, has yet to comment on the matter.

While short-form video platform TikTok's popularity lies in its appeal to millennials and Generation Z in international markets, WeChat, the largest social network in China, is primarily used as an instant messaging tool for Chinese across the globe to communicate with each other.

For global businesses with a footprint in China, the application has remained a reliable networking platform to connect with potential customers and clients across the Pacific Ocean.

Chen Jin, chief operating officer of Alaska Skylar Travel LLC, a tour company headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska, said WeChat is an essential tool for her daily routine, helping her reach families and business partners in China.

"It would be very inconvenient if WeChat is banned. It is impossible for my older family members to learn to use other software. Most of my existing business contacts only have WeChat as a contact method, and email exchanges will greatly reduce efficiency," she said.

A petition calling on the White House to withdraw the ban had garnered close to 13,500 signatures by Thursday evening.

"Chinese Americans can sacrifice one entertainment app among the many that are available, but they cannot give up the only social media app linking them to their families in China. In this regard, access to WeChat should not be restricted in the US," the petition said.

WeChat plays a more important role than ever in helping family members stay connected and updated, especially during the ongoing pandemic, the petition went on to state.

Many supporters of the petition expressed their frustration at the news and lamented the inconveniences that would arise if the app were blocked in the US.

"I have many useful local WeChat groups which provide helpful resources and information," wrote Yu Ma of Ronkonkoma, New York.

"These communities are formed over the years, and it is hard to replace or move all of them to another new but not so well-designed platform. These include my college class group, my religion groups, local community groups and much more, which have become a part of my life. To stop WeChat ... will disrupt the lifestyle of many ordinary people," Yu added.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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