Chinese-owned social media app TikTok yesterday announced that it would set up its first data center for European users in Ireland, which it expects to be operational by early 2022.
TikTok global chief information security officer Roland Cloutier said that the 420 million euro (US$498 million) investment would create jobs, enable faster loading times and “play a key role in further strengthening the safeguarding and protection of TikTok user data.”
The news came after US President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday said that it is stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks and called the Chinese-owned TikTok and WeChat “significant threats.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that expanded US efforts on a program it calls “Clean Network” would focus on five areas and include steps to prevent various Chinese apps, as well as Chinese telecommunications companies, from accessing sensitive information on US citizens and businesses.
His announcement comes after Trump threatened to ban TikTok.
The video-sharing app has come under fire from US lawmakers and the administration over national security concerns, amid intensified tensions between Washington and Beijing.
“With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat and others are significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP [Chinese Communist Party] content censorship,” Pompeo said.
In an interview with Xinhua news agency on Wednesday, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) said that the US “has no right” to set up the “Clean Network” and calls the actions by Washington “a textbook case of bullying.”
“Anyone can see through clearly that the intention of the US is to protect its monopoly position in technology and to rob other countries of their proper right to development,” Wang said.
TikTok faces a deadline of Sept. 15 to either sell its US operations to Microsoft Corp or face an outright ban.
In the run-up to Trump’s November re-election bid, US-China ties are at the lowest ebb in decades.
Pompeo said that the US is working to prevent Huawei Technologies Co (華為) from preinstalling or making available for download the most popular US apps on its smartphones.
“We don’t want companies to be complicit in Huawei’s human rights abuses, or the CCP’s surveillance apparatus,” Pompeo said, without mentioning any specific US firms.
Pompeo said that the US Department of State would work with other government agencies to protect the data of US citizens and intellectual property, including COVID-19 vaccine research, by preventing access from cloud-based systems run by companies such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴), Baidu Inc (百度), China Mobile Ltd (中國移動), China Telecom Corp (中國電信) and Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊).
Pompeo said that he has joined US Attorney General William Barr, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and US Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf in urging the US Federal Communications Commission to terminate authorizations for China Telecom and three other companies to provide services to and from the US.
The State Department was also working to ensure that China could not compromise information carried by undersea cables that connect the US to the global Internet, he said.
The US has long been lobbying European and other allies to persuade them to cut out Huawei from their telecommunications networks. Huawei denies that it spies for China and says the US wants to frustrate its growth because no US company offers the same technology at a competitive price.
Pompeo’s comments reflected a wider and more accelerated push by Washington to limit the access of Chinese technology companies to US market and consumers and, as one US official put it, to push back against a “massive campaign to steal and weaponize our data against us.”
A State Department statement said that momentum for the Clean Network program is growing, and more than 30 countries and territories are “Clean Countries” and many of the world’s biggest telecommunications companies “Clean Telcos.”
It called on US allies “to join the growing tide to secure our data from the CCP’s surveillance state and other malign entities.”
Additional reporting by Reuters
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