United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signaled on Wednesday that the US will be taking greater action to purge “untrusted Chinese apps” like TikTok and WeChat from its digital networks, labeling them “significant threats.”
“The Clean Network program is the Trump Administration’s comprehensive approach to guarding our citizen’s privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” said Pompeo.
“With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat and others are significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for CCP content censorship.”
The Clean Network program would focus on five areas, mapping out steps to prevent certain Chinese apps and telecoms companies from accessing sensitive information of US citizens and businesses.
He also called for companies to stop making these Chinese apps available for download on phones made by Huawei Technologies Corp. and to refuse access to Chinese cloud providers, such as Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu, China Mobile and China Telecom, when it comes to sensitive US data.
“We don’t want companies to be complicit in Huawei’s human rights abuses or the CCP’s surveillance apparatus,” he said.
Pompeo also mentioned that the US would ensure China cannot access data being transferred via undersea cable, especially any laid down by Huawei subsidiary, Huawei Marine.
US continues hardening attitude towards China
This represents the Trump administration’s hardening attitude toward restricting Chinese technologies in the US, coming shortly after President Donald Trump issued an ultimatum to ban the viral video app TikTok from the country unless its US operations are sold to a US company.
Many US officials are pushing the TikTok sale over concerns that its Chinese ownership poses the risk of personal data being fed to Beijing and exploited. However, TikTok has insisted that its user data is stored outside China and is safe under their US-based corporate leadership.
A statement released by the US State Department said that a reported 30 countries and territories are ‘Clean Countries’ and many of the world’s biggest telecommunications companies are ‘Clean Telcos’ fully committed to exclusively using trusted vendors.
“The United States calls on our allies and partners in government and industry around the world to join the growing tide to secure our data from the CCP’s surveillance state and other malign entities,” the statement read.
“Building a Clean fortress around our citizens’ data will ensure all of our nations’ security.”
The US has also been lobbying its allies to try to persuade them to cut Huawei from local telecommunication networks even though Huawei has repeatedly denied accusations of spying for the Chinese government.
Chinese officials responded angrily to the expansion of the Clean Network program, denouncing the Trump administration’s efforts to push against their technology companies.
China labels actions textbook bullying
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in an interview with state news outlet Xinhua News Agency that the US actions are a “textbook case of bullying.”
“Anyone can see through clearly that the intention of the US is to protect its monopoly position in technology and to rob other countries of their proper right to development,” said Wang.
This growing tension around technology concerns contributes further to already plummeting relations between the US and China as they clash over issues such as trade, human rights and security.
In the last few months alone, tit-for-tat sanctions were issued over a number of disputes, consulates were closed in both countries and the two superpowers found themselves on opposing sides in multiple international discussions.
However, Chinese officials have insisted that it does not want to engage in a “new Cold War” or further worsen relations with the US.
“We reject any attempt to artificially create a so-called ‘new Cold War’,” said Foreign Minister Wang on Wednesday. “Anyone who tries to start a new Cold War in the 21st century will be on the wrong side of history and will only be remembered as the one who has upended international cooperation.”
He urged the US to stop its decoupling efforts, which risk hurting the interests of both sides.
“If the US is bent on going down the wrong path, China is ready to make a due response,” said Wang.
“Forced decoupling will inflict a lasting impact on bilateral relations, and endanger the security of international industrial chains and interests of all countries.”
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