Trump Targets WeChat and TikTok, in Sharp Escalation With China

TikTok is in talks with at least three other American companies, including Microsoft, regarding a potential acquisition of TikTok’s business. Last week, Microsoft said it planned to pursue the negotiations for a purchase of TikTok’s service in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and would do so by Sept. 15.

Mr. Trump for weeks has been urged to intervene with TikTok, and by a range of advisers. Many of those advisers, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, had counseled Mr. Trump to follow the recommendations of a national security panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and allow Microsoft or another suitor to buy the Chinese-owned service.

But other advisers, like the White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, pushed for more sweeping action. By Friday evening, as the president flew back to Washington from Florida, Mr. Trump told reporters that he did not want TikTok to be acquired by an American company and that he would use his presidential authority to bar TikTok from operating in the United States.

That position did not last long. Mr. Mnuchin and other officials scrambled to find people who would intervene with the president, imploring people like Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, to explain to the president why the Microsoft deal was a good option. Mr. Graham and Mr. Mnuchin cautioned Mr. Trump about a risky political calculation if TikTok simply went dark.

By Sunday, Mr. Trump had come around. But he has never seemed completely settled on one approach.

The threat of an outright ban on transactions is a serious blow for ByteDance and Zhang Yiming, the company’s chief executive, whose goal for years has been to connect the world through his various consumer apps. Nicknamed the “app factory” in China, ByteDance is home to more than 20 apps, including personal financial apps and productivity programs.

TikTok is far and away the crown jewel of ByteDance’s portfolio. Used by more than 800 million people globally, TikTok grew popular for its short, catchy videos that spread quickly and virally over social media channels. Mr. Zhang took steps to allow TikTok’s presence in some of the world’s most important consumer markets, like storing user data on servers in Virginia and Singapore, and hiring heads of business in the United States.

For many in China, the ban of WeChat will be a bigger deal. TikTok does not operate in China, where ByteDance instead offers an equivalent service, called Douyin.

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