TikTok, symbol of the Sino-American technological confrontation

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The TikTok saga, which Donald Trump wants to bring under American control, is the latest example of the fierce battle between the United States and China to dominate the high tech sector. At the cost of interventionism harmful to the business world.

The term of the Republican president will have been marked by an unprecedented commercial and technological offensive against Beijing, with punitive tariffs and blocking of Chinese companies in the United States.

The White House host, who highlights the risks of espionage via the large-scale collection of data from Americans, did not hesitate to use his powers and connections to interfere directly in certain transactions, breaking with the liberal tradition.

“The country that wins (this technological battle) will have enormous economic and geopolitical advantages,” said Doug Barry, spokesperson for the United States / China Economic Council (USCBC), which brings together more than 200 American companies doing business with China.

Before the case of the successful application TikTok, Donald Trump had blocked in 2018 the takeover of the specialist in components for mobile phones Qualcomm by Broadcom, then based in Singapore, on the grounds that it would help Chinese companies like Huawei to dominate the market. strategic market for ultra-fast mobile internet, 5G.

Last year, Huawei itself was blacklisted.


But many analysts say Donald Trump’s decisions could backfire on US businesses by encouraging China and other countries to interfere in business in turn.

Trump’s decisions on TikTok and other Chinese companies “are eroding trust in American leadership,” said Darrell West, who heads the technology innovation center at the Brookings Institution.

“The forced sale of the company (TikTok) to American investors sets a harmful precedent,” he says, seeing it as an incentive to retaliate against American companies.

For his part, Edward Alden, specialist in trade issues at the Council Foreign Relations (CFR), notes that the two countries “are moving from a relationship characterized by (…) mutual economic gain to a relationship based on strategic competition” .

The TikTok affair is “a major warning” to Chinese companies about the potential dangers of doing business in the United States, he continues.

But this interventionism sows doubt for other foreign companies “on the new rules” which now govern the American market, especially since Donald Trump does not hesitate to favor his friendly bosses.

The Wall Street Journal, a business daily close to the president until then, even published a scathing editorial this month on the proposed deal to transfer control of TikTok from its Chinese parent company ByteDance to Oracle and Walmart.

“The agreement may protect national security as the Trump administration claims, but it borders on cronyism that is harmful to America’s credibility and reputation as a free-market land”, he commented.

And this politicization of the business world is already having consequences for investments.

As Sino-U.S. Tensions increased, China-U.S. Investment did indeed melt away, falling in the first half to its lowest level in nine years, according to Rhodium, an independent research group.

In a recent analysis, he points out that the decline has been continuous in recent years, reversing the wave of mergers and acquisitions by Chinese conglomerates in the United States that peaked in 2014 with the purchase of the iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel. , a flagship of New York art deco.

“Diplomatic ping-pong”

Donald Trump is not the only culprit in this deterioration of economic relations between the two leading world powers, however, notes Eswar Prasad, specialist in the Asian giant and professor at Cornell University.

China published new export rules at the end of August to jeopardize the sale of TikTok.

This “shows that the two countries will use all possible tools to advance their commercial and technological interests”, underlines Mr. Prasad.

As a result, Chinese and American companies are “trapped in this increasingly hostile diplomatic ping-pong”, he concludes.

With 100 million users in the United States, TikTok and WeChat (another application in the American crosshairs), are however “probably the coolest Chinese apps and which have a bit of the same profile as Facebook and Instagram”, continues Edward Alden .

A “soft power” from China which is not to the taste of the American billionaire who is seeking a second term in the ballot on November 3.

Despite political interference, Doug Barry believes that “the United States remains and will remain the most open market in the world” even though there is “no doubt” that the United States government will continue to interfere to protect its citizens.

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