BEIJING (Dispatches) -- China accused the United States on Tuesday of "bullying” over popular video app TikTok, after President Donald Trump ramped up pressure for its U.S. operations to be sold to an American company.
In the latest of a series of diplomatic spats between the world’s two biggest economies, Beijing hit back after Trump gave TikTok six weeks to arrange a sale of its U.S. operations -- and said that his government wanted a financial benefit from the deal.
"This goes against the principles of the market economy and the (World Trade Organization’s) principles of openness, transparency and non-discrimination,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin. "It’s outright bullying.”
The app has been under formal investigation on U.S. national security grounds, because it collects large amounts of personal data on users, but that is what every application does.
Trump said that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok, and has given ByteDance until mid-September to strike a deal, a tactic that is almost unheard of.
"It’s got to be an American company... it’s got to be owned here,” Trump said on Monday. "We don’t want to have any problem with security.”
Beijing slammed the move as "political manipulation”.
Wang told a regular press briefing Tuesday: "The U.S., without providing any evidence, has been using an abused concept of national security... unjustifiably suppressing certain non-U.S. companies.”
He said the national security grounds for the U.S.’s clampdown on Chinese firms "does not hold water”, adding that the companies conduct their business activities in accordance with international rules and U.S. laws.
"But the U.S. is cracking down on them on trumped-up charges,” said Wang, who warned the U.S. not to "open Pandora’s box”.
The China Daily newspaper said China will not accept the "theft” and is able to respond to Washington’s move.
The United States’ "bullying” of Chinese tech companies is a consequence of Washington’s zero-sum vision of "American first” and has left China no choice but "submission or mortal combat in the tech realm”, the state-backed paper said in an editorial.
China had "plenty of ways to respond if the administration carries out its planned smash and grab”, it added.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said over the weekend that Trump would take action shortly against Chinese software companies that allegedly shared user data with the Chinese government.
The Global Times newspaper said U.S. treatment of ByteDance and Huawei Technologies, now on a U.S. trade blacklist, is indicative of U.S. efforts to separate its economy from China’s.
"China’s opening-up to the outside world and disintegrating the U.S. decoupling strategy should be priorities,” it said in an editorial.
TikTok has as many as one billion worldwide users, who make quirky 60-second videos with its smartphone app.
But the pressure for a sale of its U.S. and international business, based in Los Angeles, has left the company and its Chinese parent ByteDance facing tough decisions.
ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming acknowledged on Monday "mounting complexities across the geopolitical landscape and significant external pressure” faced by the company, in a letter to staff, reported by Chinese media.
He added that the company has "always been committed to ensuring user data security, as well as the platform neutrality and transparency”.
Meanwhile, Wang urged the U.S. on Tuesday to "refrain from politicizing economic issues” and to provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for foreign market players.
Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor-in-chief of the state-backed Global Times, called the move an "open robbery” and said "President Trump is turning the once great America into a rogue country.”
China Daily said the U.S. government’s pressure for TikTok to be sold to Microsoft is "tantamount to inviting potential U.S. purchasers to participate in an officially sanctioned ‘steal’ of Chinese technology.”
The Global Times said the U.S. sees TikTok and Huawei as a threat to American technology firms.
These companies have "brought a sense of crisis to U.S. elites, which shows that China’s top companies have the ability to move to the forefront of the world in technology,” the Chinese tabloid said.
"When similar things happen time and again, the U.S. will take steps closer to its decline,” it added.