Trump’s TikTok and WeChat Bans Could Shatter the Global Internet

Trump’s TikTok and WeChat Bans Could Shatter the Global Internet

  • Trump’s new restrictions on Chinese apps and technology are so far-reaching that the future of the open internet is at stake.

What remains of the global, open internet came under attack this month. The latest salvo was launched from the White House and included two executive orders sanctioning the Chinese platforms WeChat and TikTok as well as expanding a so-called clean network program. Intended to tighten the screws on China, these measures risk setting off a dangerous chain reaction far beyond their stated intent. When the orders take effect in mid-September, they will, among other things, prohibit any U.S. citizen or company from transacting with ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, or WeChat, owned by Tencent. While the U.S. State Department says the objective is to fend off “aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party,” the measures will undermine a free and open internet, strengthen the hand of authoritarian governments, and hasten the unraveling of the global economic integration that has fueled the most successful half-century in human history.

U.S. President Donald Trump knows there is bipartisan support for ratcheting up pressure on China, especially on questions related to national security and defense. He also understands that looking tough on China will be helpful for the November election, even if he has been anything but tough on China in the past. But his gambit has far-reaching technological, economic, and geopolitical implications. For one, it shatters the pretense of a free, interoperable, and global internet that has prevailed for the past three decades, and of which the United States has long been the prime guarantor and beneficiary. It also gives license to authoritarians to crack down on the flow of information, threatens to cut the digital lifelines of their citizens to the outside world, and is likely to sharply curtail global trade in digital services.