China said it “firmly opposes” any forced sale of TikTok, denouncing Washington’s demand that the social media app cut ties with its home country ahead of a pivotal hearing in the US on Thursday.
“Forcing the sale of TikTok will seriously damage the confidence of investors from all over the world, including from China, on investing in the United States,” said the Chinese commerce ministry. It added: “China firmly opposes it.”
It warned that a sale or divestiture of TikTok involves “technology export” that has to be approved by the Chinese government.
Beijing’s move to weigh in on the brewing stand-off comes as TikTok’s chief executive Shou Zi Chew is due to testify before Congress, in an appearance that will help to determine the app’s future in the US.
TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based group ByteDance, is used by more than 150mn Americans. US officials have cited national security concerns to demand that its Chinese owners sell their stakes in the social media company or potentially face a ban.
The company faced similar demands towards the end of the Trump administration, with Chinese officials eventually adding personal recommendation algorithms to its list of controlled exports to ensure they could block such a deal.
Beijing has also installed a Communist party official as a director at ByteDance’s main Chinese entity, which developed the TikTok algorithm, who has the right to vote on any spin-off or divestiture.
TikTok has for years attempted to portray itself as an international group with limited ties to China but Beijing’s forceful claim to the app will make such proclamations harder to sell in Washington.
“This is not something China can retreat on,” said Li Chengdong, head of tech think-tank Haitun. “The demands the US is making, there’s no way the Chinese government can agree to those, even for ByteDance it would be tough.”
Li added: “If you don’t compromise with each other, both sides will lose in the end. It’s similar to the China-US economic decoupling.”
In written testimony posted ahead of the hearing, Chew will tell the House of Representatives energy and commerce committee: “TikTok has never shared, or received a request to share, US user data with the Chinese government. Nor would TikTok honour such a request if one were ever made.”
Chew is also prepared to tell US legislators that 60 per cent of ByteDance shares are owned by global investors, while 20 per cent are owned by employees and a further 20 per cent by its founder Zhang Yiming. But his testimony does not address that Zhang has voting control over the company by way of owning a separate class of shares.
ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.