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China’s Trojan Horse


WORLD Radio - China’s Trojan Horse

Congress attempts to curb the Communist country’s intelligence gathering and influence in the United States through TikTok

Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. (left), and Mike Gallager, R-Wis., after the House vote on the TikTok legislation Getty Images/Photo by Chip Somodevilla

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday the 14th of March, 2024.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. First up: Banning TikTok.

As you just heard, lawmakers in the House yesterday voted to pass a bill that would require TikTok to change ownership or leave the country.

Washington Bureau Reporter Leo Briceno has more on the story.

LEO BRICENO, REPORTER: Last Thursday, calls from all over the country flooded the switchboard of the U.S. House of Representatives. Callers wanted to know: Was Congress going to ban TikTok?

RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI: We had little children calling into our office and others basically saying questions like what is Congress? What is a congressman? Can I have my TikTok back?

That’s Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a sponsor of the “Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act.”

The bill, co-sponsored with Republican Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, gives TikTok a choice: either sell the company or lose American audiences.

So why is Congress going after a video-sharing app? Here’s Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw.

DAN CRENSHAW: TikTok is owned by ByteDance, ByteDance is in China. And when you’re in China, you have to do whatever the Chinese Communist Party says you have to do, that’s according to the National Intelligence Law passed in 2017. If they want you to spy for them, you will spy for them.

Tiktok’s proximity to the United State’s foremost adversary concerns many lawmakers. And that concern isn’t unique to Congress either. Michael Sobolik is a senior fellow in Indo-Pacific Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council.

MICHAEL SOBOLIK: This is a world that has an abundance of threats in it. And Americans have learned that the hard way in Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and if we're not careful, we're going to learn it the hard way again, with China.

Sobolik says Americans should be concerned about TikTok because its terms and conditions grant the app extensive access to users’ phones.

SOBOLIK: TikTok is the CCP’s backdoor into the phone of every single American that has the app downloaded. … It affords the Chinese Communist Party the ability to shape, control political discourse in the United States. It allows them to boost content and to censor content in Beijing's interest and not in ours.

But some lawmakers opposed the legislation. Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie for instance, he sits on the powerful Rules Committee. He’s just as wary of China as the next Republican lawmaker, but he told me he’s concerned about what future actions the bill will make possible.

THOMAS MASSIE: You’re gonna make outlaws of who? You can’t prosecute anybody in China, so you’re eventually gonna prosecute people here for trying to use the app?

And what would prevent that same logic from being applied to other things? After all, aren’t many American cars made with Chinese-based software and computer hardware?

MASSIE: I mean Apple has factories over there. A lot of people have factories over there. What if you ban every phone that’s made substantially by a foreign-owned adversary?

Others, like North Carolina Representative Dan Bishop, expressed constitutional concerns.

DAN BISHOP: The Trump administration attempted to ban TikTok in 2020. And it was held that it couldn't do so in two court decisions because under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act are subject to the Berman Amendment. Passed in 1988 by this body to provide that in the interest of, of dealing with hostile foreign powers, the president can do all sorts of things with respect to commerce but cannot ban the free flow of information across international boundaries.

But Representative Mike Gallagher says the bill isn’t concerned about the content of speech coming through TikTok, but who controls it.

MIKE GALLAGHER: Foreign adversary control of what is becoming the dominant news platform for Americans under 30.

While the House passed the bill, the Senate may prove to be more challenging. Senators like John Cornyn and Rand Paul have echoed the concerns of House members who voted against it. But President Joe Biden made his position clear last week.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: If they pass it I’ll sign in.

So if this bill becomes law, what might that mean for America’s relationship with China? Sobolik says we’ll have to see how China responds.

SOBOLIK: It is not in Beijing's interest to separate from TikTok because, again, this is their Trojan horse inside of America…So expect China to do everything it can and TikTok to do everything they can if this bill becomes law to litigate it and to oppose it.

Regardless of how opposition from Beijing plays out, Sobolik says TikTok is a top tier issue that Congress needs to address.

SOBOLIK: Taking care of TikTok is worth putting the country first. Winning a Cold War is worth putting the country first. And there are a lot of people who talk a big game on China, and it's going to be really interesting to see how they respond to this opportunity to actually protect the American people from the CCP.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Leo Briceno.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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