WASHINGTON – President Trump signed an ordinance on Tuesday banning transactions using eight Chinese software applications, including Alipay, the Ant Group’s payment platform, and WeChat Pay, owned by Tencent.
The move, two weeks before the end of Mr Trump’s term in office, could help secure his administration’s tougher stance on China and is likely to add further turmoil to Beijing. However, determining the scope of the order and enforcing it would presumably be left to the future Biden administration, which has not clarified whether it will attempt to enact Mr Trump’s bans, creating uncertainty about the effectiveness of the move.
The Executive Order, issued on late Tuesday, blocks all transactions with “persons who develop or control the apps from Alipay, CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate, WeChat Pay, WPS Office and their subsidiaries” days after 45 years .
In the ordinance, the president said China had used “bulk data collection” to advance its economic and national security agenda, and that the targeted apps would put Americans at risk.
“The United States has found that a number of China-related software applications are automatically collecting vast amounts of information from millions of users in the United States, including sensitive personal data and private information,” the mandate said. “At this point in time, action must be taken to address the threat posed by these China-related software applications,” he wrote.
The executive order is the Trump administration’s recent escalation against China. Under Mr. Trump, the White House raised tariffs and waged a trade war. It has also reached out to Chinese social media services, which are a channel for Chinese espionage and pose a national security risk to the American public. Last fall, the Trump administration issued Executive Orders banning two other popular Chinese social media services, TikTok and WeChat.
However, both bans are involved in litigation and the services continue to operate in the United States. This begs the question of whether American courts will issue an injunction to stop Mr Trump’s recent bans on Chinese services.
In a briefing Tuesday evening, a senior Trump administration official said that prevalence was still expected in these lawsuits and that the legal challenges for the TikTok and WeChat orders had centered on first adjustment rights, which most likely would not be a concern regarding the payment platforms and other apps that are affected by the last order.
The senior official also said the Trump administration had no contact with the Biden administration because of the order. The Biden administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tencent declined to comment. The other Chinese tech companies affected by the order did not have an immediate comment.
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Jan. 5, 2021, 1:06 p.m. ET
The scope of the order may be limited as the vast majority of users of the affected apps live in China. For example, Alipay users are generally required to have a bank account in China and a Chinese cell phone number. Samm Sacks, a cybersecurity politician and fellow of the Chinese digital economy at the New America Think Tank, said it was unlikely that many of the apps included in the executive order would process a lot of data from American citizens.
Still, the restrictions could fall heavily on Chinese-Americans traveling between countries or using the services to keep in touch or do business with contacts in China.
The move could also affect President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has hinted that he will recalibrate American policy towards China while continuing to pressurize the country on some issues.
“The Executive Order will take effect on Biden’s watch,” said Ms. Sacks. “Even if his team doesn’t buy the national security risk, it will be politically difficult to do the job without looking like a concession to Beijing. I see the order as a last minute thrashing to try to tie Biden’s hands. “
The new order mandates the Minister of Commerce to identify the type of transactions that will be affected in 45 days. It also instructs the secretary to identify other apps and take appropriate action, and make broader recommendations on how the United States should develop a program to control the flow of U.S. personal data to foreign adversaries, the senior Trump administration official said . The official said the order was not intended to prevent Chinese companies from paying their employees in the United States.
In a statement, Wilbur Ross, the trade secretary, said he had directed his department to begin executing the orders, “including identifying prohibited transactions related to certain China-related software applications.”
“I stand by President Trump’s commitment to protecting the privacy and security of Americans from threats from the Chinese Communist Party,” he added.
The executive order came as the Trump administration and members of Congress also put pressure on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday to remove China’s three major state-owned telecommunications companies from the stock exchange.
The exchange late Monday had reversed its original plans announced last week to separate the companies from the government in an attempt to halt American investment in companies related to the Chinese military.
Alan Rappeport and David McCabe contributed to the coverage.