Published: 16:03, May 2, 2024
Paranoia, McCarthyism over TikTok
By Tom Fowdy

Hysteria over Chinese-owned app reflects US self-entitlement, reactionary jealousy

On April 23, the US Senate passed a legislation that would ban popular short video app TikTok in the United States unless the app’s Chinese owner ByteDance sells it within a year. The legislation was included as part of a larger $95 billion package that provides foreign aid to Ukraine and Israel, among others, which was passed earlier in the US House of Representatives. The bill became law as US President Joe Biden signed it quickly, on April 24.

The bill originated from Representative Mike Gallagher. He, along with many others, pushed the false assumption that the app is controlled by China’s government. They demanded the sale of the app at gunpoint in order to be able to continue operating in the US. However, experts have said they do not believe the bill will survive a legal challenge because of the implications it has for free speech, which is guaranteed under the US Constitution.

The idea that the US can extort a company into selling a hugely successful operation is nothing but extreme arrogance, entitlement, and unbridled callousness. Not only does it illustrate the absurd levels of irrational paranoia and McCarthyism that have gripped Washington but also the total lack of respect it has for China and its people.

READ MORE: Chinese foreign ministry opposes US infringing on sovereignty

Using the Communist Party of China as a premise for targeting anything from the country they do not like, the politicians believe they have a right to undermine, trample upon, and diminish anything China has produced which is equal to or better than what is produced in the US, showing Washington’s hegemonic mindset.

This kind of attitude, the belief that China must be “coerced” into handing over its economic assets and resources to the West, has been inflicted on the country over the centuries and was most blatant in what China describes as “the century of humiliation” when Western powers brutally subjugated the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) into accepting their will.

This is most famously depicted through the Opium Wars, whereby the British Empire waged war on China for its refusal to open its markets up to opium and forced the Chinese into the first “Unequal Treaty” which not only imposed the export on them by force, but also ceded Hong Kong as a port for doing so.

Other such “unequal treaties” over the years created other foreign concessions in China, allowed Westerners in China to be exempt from local laws and treat Chinese people as inferior, second-class citizens. Although this system is long gone, the fundamental mindset in the West’s relationship toward China that assumes the country to be inferior and advocates a sense of entitlement to its markets and resources, remains.

This is manifest in the belief of US politicians that the country has a right to effectively “steal” TikTok from Chinese ownership by attempting to leverage its operation on the threat of a ban. There is a line of thought present that only the US has the right to create globally successful media apps and that China has no entitlement to do so.

However, the century of humiliation is over, and likewise any attempts to impose that kind of coercion and subordination on China will almost certainly fail. When former US president Donald Trump’s administration in 2020 attempted to ban TikTok under the threat of a sale, an effort which also failed, China responded by simply making it illegal for ByteDance to engage in such a transaction. There is no reason to assume that has changed.

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Under no circumstances will the company be allowed to sell such a wildly successful product, under the threat of force, to a US entity. It is nothing less than effective robbery.

If the US, therefore, goes ahead with a ban given there is no sale to be had, it will invoke the anger of over 170 million in the US who use the app and it will be a politically self-defeating move for any figure who endorses it. This in any case will demonstrate the paranoid and unhinged culture which overhangs Capitol Hill on matters pertaining to China.

The message must be made clear. The US has no right to steal, undermine or impede China’s success. The hysteria over TikTok is regurgitated paranoia based on a toxic mix of self-entitlement, McCarthyism, and reactionary jealousy, all of which are rooted in the inherent denial of China’s development and success, and the idea that all countries big or small must be inferior to the US. Competition of course is fine but this is not competition, it is extortion.

The author is a British political and international relations analyst. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.