The United States, her allies, and free nations everywhere must ban Tik Tok. We didn’t allow Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union to control radio stations and tv channels we consumed. Why would we allow China, a fascist one-party controlled, human rights abusing, covid hiding, great firewall having, propaganda spreading, foreigner hating, currency manipulating, dictator controlling, freedom of speech suppressing, Taiwan bullying, Hong Kong crushing, political dissident disappearing, no ally having, Russia supporting, free world bashing, intellectual property stealing, Uyghur muslim interning, developing nation bankrupting country, that honor?
I do not state this recommendation lightly. I am a believer in free trade, open markets, open information flow, open capital flows- because anything that allows humans all over the world to more easily collaborate is a benefit to humanity. But it’s a two-way street. Allowing one nation to abuse the free world’s openness while not even pretending to offer the same is absurd. Look no further than Made in China 2025, the Belt and Road Initiative, Operation Fox Hunt, the Thousand Talents Plan, and wolf warrior diplomacy- China is very clear about their intentions.
My recommendation to ban Tik Tok, and decrease dependence on Chinese exports generally, rests on four pillars. The first is simply market fairness. China heavily restricts foreign access to their market, especially for tech companies. The free world should return the favor.
Second, it is well documented Bytedance, Tik Tok’s parent company based in Beijing, has lied to Congress, broken App Store and Google Play policies, and is sending vast amounts of personal data on millions of Americans back to China. For a great primer on all this look no further than FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr’s letter to Apple and Google along with Emily Baker-White’s report on leaked audio from internal Tik Tok meetings. Tik Tok’s transgressions are as clear as day.
The third pillar is much broader. China has been and continues to engage in the theft of intellectual property from businesses and research institutions all over the world. The FBI has called it the largest transfer of wealth in history. There is the case of Hongjin Tan who stole $1 billion worth of trade secrets form an Oklahoma petroleum company; or Shan Shi stealing naval tech; or Hao Zhang stealing wireless technology it took 20 years for those firms to develop; or an American company whose tech was stolen, patented in China, and then was offered a joint venture by China to use its own stolen tech. Or the Arm China mess. Even outside of IP theft, China systematically engages in hacking efforts to steal the data of American citizens. Equifax, Anthem insurance, and the federal government’s employee system were all compromised by Chinese state hackers, collectively compromising the personal data of the majority of Americans.
Or in academia where China pays scientists at American universities to steal research which is often federally funded. The American taxpayers are footing the bill for China’s “innovation.” The examples are endless, including Qing Wang at the Cleveland Clinic working on molecular medicine; Simon Saw-Teong Ang at the University of Arkansas doing research for NASA; Xiao-Jiang Li at Emory University researching Huntington’s disease; or Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.
There must be repercussions for this. And it can’t be to allow the free world to get addicted to an app that feeds even more data back to China while allowing Tik Tok’s algorithms to be controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to sway the minds of billions. To learn more about China’s systemic campaigns to infiltrate, steal from, and influence the free world, read this joint address by the FBI and MI5. It is the first time in the history of these two intelligence agencies they have released a joint statement. It is absolutely chilling.
The fourth and final pillar- China is against the rules-based global order. They do not seek to unlock human potential, increase freedom, and encourage a collective human enterprise reaching for the stars. The CCP seeks only to retain control at all costs. They seek to divide the free world and her allies. Look no further than Australia, sanctioned by China for merely asking questions about the origins of Covid-19 and for standing up to their increasingly hostile military. The CCP dangles their large market to businesses everywhere sending the message, “You want access? Shut your mouth and do our bidding.”
It’s why Apple, a privacy-focused company, bends the knee in China giving the CCP access to all of their citizens’ data. It’s why major cultural institutions like the NBA must tip toe around fundamental human rights issues in Hong Kong. It’s why Eileen Gu, a free world and American traitor turned CCP pawn, won breakout athlete of the year at the ESPYS. It’s why the Taiwan flag was initially removed from Maverik’s jacket in the newest Top Gun. It’s why Hollywood is too scared to make any films critical of China (and why Richard Gere, god bless him, has been black balled). Hollywood, step up. A generation grew up on anti-soviet films and it was beautiful. A country willing to push so hard against the free expression of nations everywhere has no place controlling a fundamental communication tool operating in the free world.
And make no mistake, there is no such thing as a private company in China. All of the Chinese companies are beholden to the state and legally must work with the state. It is the law. You think it was bad that Trump was deplatformed following his bullshit claims the election was stolen? Xi Jinping, the thug at the top of the CCP, would never, ever, be deplatformed by Chinese companies. Not only is it illegal, the perpetrators at the offending companies would be disappeared. America truly is the land of the free, where even our private companies can give the finger to the president.
I’m fully sympathetic to the fact that this is bigger than Tik Tok. I’m extremely skeptical of any private company that has algorithms with the power to sway the minds of billions. I’m skeptical of private companies declaring themselves arbiters of truth with “fact checking.” But I’m an order of magnitude more skeptical when that company is beholden to an evil state that is by law forced to do that state’s bidding. And it’s one of the reasons I’m long crypto, the only tech with a shot at diminishing the power of huge tech companies.
For decades the free world has addressed China’s rise with a certain naivete and willful ignorance. With President Dick Nixon’s 1972 visit to China, a 25-year diplomatic dry spell between the US and China was officially over. The Boxer Rebellion in 1899, which sought to kill and expel foreigners and Christians, was a distant memory. So too was China’s Great Leap Forward in 1958, which killed millions of their own people. So too was the Cultural Revolution in 1966, a deadly movement that pitted countryman against countryman to purge wrongthink.
Then with the dawn of the internet, President Clinton believed a new era of liberty for humanity had arrived. He famously said China’s efforts to restrict online speech would be tantamount to “nailing jello to the wall.” In 2001, about a year and half after Clinton’s proclamation, China was admitted into the World Trade Organization. And again a suspension of reality allowed the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre by the Chinese government against its own people to fade to black. The bad stuff was in the past and China was entering the developed world and liberty would reign. Ha. As an internet and tech optimist, no way I would have predicted two decades ago that China would use it all to create a police state not even Orwell could have imagined. But the free world is starting to wake up, and it’s time to get out of bed.
There is a playbook for this. The free world allied against the Soviet Union and the Berlin wall fell. We should send China a strong signal that if they want to be part of the free world, they must play by the rules. Allowing their transgressions to continue will not only mean a less democratic world, but will also mean a less free China. Pressure would encourage the unshackling of 1.4 billion Chinese citizens from tyranny. The problem is not insurmountable.
China is no match for the economic, technologic, and cultural powerhouses of the free world. China has no allies; cannot project naval power more than a thousand miles from their coast; is facing demographic collapse due to the one-child policy; has the lowest birthrate in the world; has the fastest aging citizenry in the world; faces energy and food insecurity; relies heavily on imports and exports from and to the free world without which would cause total and utter collapse of the Chinese system; a real estate crisis that makes the US housing bubble in 2008 look like a cake walk; a credit crisis the likes of which the world has never seen; relies heavily on hard US currency stored outside China to protect wealth and not to mention the whole keeping nearly one and a half billion citizens at bay is an absolute powder keg. And no, they don’t make the iPhone. All the high value parts are made elsewhere and imported for assembly, like everything “made in China.”
Fight for freedom, stand against tyranny, break the CCP, and show the Chinese people the strength freedom brings so one day they may know it. Banning Tik Tok is a step in that direction.
Interested in building next-gen social networks? We’d love to work with you. I cofounded Fullsend, a studio helping innovative companies build best-in-class software. Let's talk, reach out to me at email@example.com.