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US House passes bill to ban TikTok unless Chinese owner agrees to sell

This illustration picture shows the Chinese social networking service TikTok's logo on a smart phone screen. (Photo by AFP)

The United States House of Representatives has passed a bill that could ultimately ban the social media app TikTok unless its Chinese owner agrees to divest.

On Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly voted for a bill that could lead to a nationwide ban against the video app TikTok, a major challenge to one of the world’s most popular social media apps with more than 150 million American users.

Lawmakers acted on concerns that TikTok’s current ownership structure is an alleged national security threat against the US.

The bill - the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act - passed by a vote of 352-65, now heads for the Senate, where its prospects are unclear as some lawmakers say they want changes to the bill.

If the Senate passes the bill, it would reach the desk of President Joe Biden, who has already said that he would sign it into law unless ByteDance divests the widely popular video-sharing app within six months.

TikTok, which is wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology giant ByteDance Ltd, has become a political target due to concerns that the app could be circumvented for spying or propaganda by the Chinese Communist Party. 

US lawmakers say the worry stems from an array of Chinese national security laws that purportedly compel organizations to assist with intelligence gathering. Both Beijing and ByteDance strongly reject the allegation.

“We have given TikTok a clear choice,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash, adding, “Separate from your parent company ByteDance, which is beholden to the CCP (the Chinese Communist Party), and remain operational in the United States, or side with the CCP and face the consequences. The choice is TikTok’s.”

The legislation could force TikTok to separate from its China-linked parent company, ByteDance, or face restrictions that could bar it from US app stores.

“Communist China is America’s largest geopolitical foe and is using technology to actively undermine America’s economy and security," said Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., in a statement after the vote, warning that TikTok could be purportedly used to access American data and spread "harmful" information.

“Today’s bipartisan vote demonstrates Congress’ opposition to Communist China’s attempts to spy on and manipulate Americans, and signals our resolve to deter our enemies,” he alleged.

ByteDance has launched a massive campaign to kill the bill, arguing that it would violate the First Amendment rights of its 150 million American users and damage thousands of small businesses that rely on the app.

Despite the campaign, ByteDance failed to block the legislation as it sailed through the House, mounting pressure on the Democratic-led Senate to act. 

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