NEW DELHI: The pushback against China's aggressive moves against its neighbours seems to be gathering steam with countries like the US looking at economic measures to persuade Beijing to rethink its steps.
On Monday, a week after India banned 59 Chinese apps, including the popular short-form video platform TikTok, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted that the US may also consider a similar move. In an interview to Fox News late on Monday, Pompeo said he and President Donald Trump were taking a serious look at the matter.
“We are taking this very seriously and we are certainly looking at it. We have worked on this very issue for a long time," said Pompeo, who had last week hailed India’s move saying that the Chinese apps could serve as appendages of Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state. India’s "clean app approach will boost India’s sovereignty and boost integrity and national security," Pompeo had said.
The remarks come at a time when US-China relations are severely strained due to the latter’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, a long standing trade-war, and China’s actions in Hong Kong. They also come at a time when India and China have just taken the first steps in a long process of reducing tensions along the border in Ladakh after a two-month of tense standoff.
China has also been making moves to claim the territorial waters of Vietnam and Malaysia in the South China Sea. Beijing has built artificial islands in the South China a bid to extend its control of waters around those islands.
In the interview, Pompeo said did not have details of the US’s plans to embargo the apps but he warned that people should download them only "if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party."
US lawmakers have in the past expressed concerns about Chinese apps — especially TikTok’s handling of user data — as well as Chinese laws that require domestic companies to cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
The US has more than 30 million active users of TikTok or about 5% of the app’s global audience, according to news reports. It was also the top non-game app downloaded in the US in February 2019.
In its response to the Indian ban, TikTok owner ByteDance had said the company has taken steps to distance itself from China to appeal to a more global audience. Chief executive officer of TikTok Kevin Mayer had been quoted as saying that while China has not asked for any user data, the company will not provide it even if it was sought.
In a separate statement on Monday, Pompeo slammed Beijing for passing a new security law for Hong Kong. "The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s destruction of free Hong Kong continues," Pompeo said in a sharply worded statement posted on the US state department website.
"With the ink barely dry on the repressive National Security Law, local authorities -- in an Orwellian move -- have now established a central government national security office, started removing books critical of the CCP from library shelves, banned political slogans, and are now requiring schools to enforce censorship," he said.
"Until now, Hong Kong flourished because it allowed free thinking and free speech, under an independent rule of law. No more," Pompeo said.
Beijing has faced a groundswell of criticism from primarily Western nations over its decision to impose the security law, which outlaws acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces in Hong Kong.
Last week, the US Congress passed new sanctions targeting banks over violations of Hong Kong's autonomy, AFP news agency reported. The act would punish banks -- including blocking loans from US institutions -- if they conduct "significant transactions" with violators of Hong Kong's autonomy. President Trump is expected to sign the legislation soon.