U.S. President Donald Trump stepped up his actions against Chinese tech firms on Tuesday with the publication of an executive order targeting Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChatPay.
The move pointed to a widening gulf between the western world still reeling from coronavirus and the chaos of the U.S. elections and an increasingly assertive, intolerant and economically powerful China. Both sides cited security reasons for their latest actions.
The Trump order cites national security concerns and the ability of the Chinese government to access the data of U.S. citizens who use “Chinese connected software.” Hours later, some 53 people in Hong Kong were arrested on suspicion of breaking the Chinese-controlled territory’s National Security Law.
In a separate executive order issued in November, Trump banned U.S. investors from buying shares in companies that the Defense Department says have ties to the Chinese military. In compliance with that, the New York Stock Exchange said late last week that it would forcibly delist the country’s three largest phone operators China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom.
Late on Monday night, the bourse reversed the delisting decision that it announced four days earlier. But other finance industry sources say that the NYSE still intends to comply with the order and may reverse itself again and go ahead with delisting of the trio.
The convoluted moves come some five months after Trump issued an earlier executive order banning social media service WeChat and video sharing app TikTok. The actions against TikTok which might have forced the separation and disposal of its U.S. businesses, are currently bogged down in legal argument.
The newest executive order says that China is systematically stealing data. It argues that measures taken to date, such as halting U.S. federal employees from using Chinese software, do not go far enough.
“Chinese connected software applications can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, including sensitive personally identifiable information and private information. This data collection threatens to provide the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” the order says.
“The continuing activity of the PRC and the CCP to steal or otherwise obtain United States persons’ data makes clear that there is an intent to use bulk data collection to advance China’s economic and national security agenda,” it continues. It adds: “The United States must take aggressive action against those who develop or control Chinese connected software applications to protect our national security.”
Beside the two leading payment services, the new order targets five other apps: CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate, and WPS Office.
China quickly shot back. “Washington’s fresh executive order banning transactions with 8 Chinese-connected apps is wanton, self-dealing attempt to victimize foreign companies for sheer political gains. And the abusive sanction on foreign firms is self-sabotage to U.S.,” wrote state news agency Xinhua later on Wednesday.
The new order is scheduled to come into effect in 45 days. But U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he had already instructed his department’s staff to begin the order’s implementation. The Reuters news agency says that the Trump regime did not discuss the executive order with the team of President-Elect Joe Biden, who is expected to take power two weeks from now on Jan. 20.
Several political commentators have suggested that the Trump team is moving quickly and maneuvering to ensure that the President’s hard line on China will be continued after Jan. 20.
So far, the incoming Biden team shows little sign of deviating from that course. Anthony Blinken, Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, was among the first U.S. politicians to condemn the mass arrests of pro-democracy campaigners that took place in Hong Kong on Wednesday morning local time (late Tuesday evening in the U.S.).
“The sweeping arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators are an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights. The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy,” Blinken said via Twitter.
John Clancey, an American lawyer who has worked with human rights organizations, was among the more than 50 people arrested in Hong Kong. The crime of “subversion” is alleged to have been committed when they took part last summer in a primary election intended to select candidates to stand in the now-canceled Legislative Council elections.
Hong Kong authorities cited their own National Security Law introduced in July 2020 as justification for the arrest of the lawmakers and lawyers. Hong Kong’s Security Secretary, John Lee said they were the “active elements who are suspected of overthrowing or interfering, seriously destroying the Hong Kong government’s legal execution of duties.”