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CEO of TikTok Denies CCP Ties

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TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew denied on Thursday that the popular social media app has any ties to the Chinese Communist Party, dismissing even the premise that its Beijing-based parent company ByteDance is Chinese and has no control over the platform.

Chew was testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a long-awaited appearance that had been announced on Jan. 30 and came after months of bipartisan and White House backing for legislation to prohibit TikTok on national security grounds.

Chew, who lives in Singapore, testified before the committee, describing TikTok as “a private firm” that runs without interference from its China-based parent, which he claimed should not be referred as as a Chinese company but rather as “a company that is now worldwide.”

In his introductory remarks, he stated, “ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government.” “It’s a private firm: 60% of the corporation is owned by worldwide institutional investors, 20% by the founder, and 20% by global employees.”

The committee members accused the TikTok CEO of being deceptive in attempting to distinguish his company from its parent, and they questioned how ByteDance could avoid severe Chinese legal requirements to submit requested data to Chinese authorities.

Project Texas

Chew, for his part, referred repeatedly to TikTok’s “Project Texas,” an ongoing attempt to shift data on its 150 million US-based users to servers on US soil, which he claimed could be audited and put to rest concerns that ByteDance or China might access the data.

“All protected US data will be protected by US law and under the direction of the US-led security team,” Chew explained. “This alleviates the concern that some of you have expressed to me about TikTok user data becoming subject to Chinese legislation.” This, by the way, goes above and beyond what any other company in our field has done.”

But, MPs from both parties expressed scepticism, pointing out that TikTok had previously been discovered lying about gathering keystroke data and “spying” on journalists.

They further mentioned that Chew previously served as ByteDance’s chief financial officer between March and November 2021, and was appointed as TikTok’s CEO in April 2021, momentarily working in both capacities across the companies.

Throughout his five-hour hearing, the CEO refuted charges that TikTok was not forthcoming about its ties to mainland China.

Rep. Janice Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, cited a BuzzFeed report from September 2021 that quoted an unidentified former TikTok employee in the United States as saying that “everything is seen in China.” Chew stated that “he disagreed with the statement” and maintained that Project Texas, if executed, would prevent this from happening in any circumstance.

But, few lawmakers were convinced.

Rep. Bill Johnson, an Ohio Republican, said his knowledge in information technology led him to assume TikTok would always be able to avoid auditing of US-based servers, and that ByteDance would be able to interface with TikTok’s servers without leaving a trace.

“The source code of TikTok is littered with backdoors and CCP censoring devices.” The truth is that in a million lines of code, the smallest alteration from a zero to a one… will enable explicit CCP censorship,” he stated.

Rep. Jay Obernolte, a Republican from California, said he, too, did not believe it was “technically conceivable to accomplish what Tiktok claims it would accomplish through Project Texas,” citing the ease with which engineers could place difficult-to-detect “backdoors.”

He also brought up a leaked TikTok dossier published by the technology news website Gizmodo last year, which instructs corporate officials in public hearings to “minimise the parent firm ByteDance, downplay the China relationship, [and] downplay AI.”

On March 23, 2023, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (Image by: Reuters)
Bipartisan Support

During his testimony, Chew found few supporters on the committee, with committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington state, setting the tone with her honesty.

“TikTok has continually chosen the road of greater control, monitoring, and manipulation.” McMorris Rodgers argued that “ByteDance is subject to the CCP, and ByteDance and TikTok are one and the same.”

She compared TikTok’s popularity to “giving the Soviet Union the capacity to produce Saturday morning cartoons during the Cold War.”

When senators weren’t debating the national security implications of Beijing spying on 150 million Americans, they were chastising Chew for content they claimed damaged minors by encouraging auto theft, suicide, and body-image issues that would be banned in China.

“The Chinese Communist Party is engaging in psychological warfare through Tik Tok,” Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter said before listing viral “challenges” on the app, such as the milk-crate challenge, the blackout challenge, the “NyQuil chicken” challenge, the Benadryl challenge, and the “Dragon’s Breath liquid nitrogen trend.”

Chew expressed concern over tales of teens dying as a result of TikTok trends, but added that content filtering was always improving and that “the majority of individuals on the platform enjoy a nice experience.”

He described the deaths as “heartbreaking.”

China Links

Yet, the majority of the hearing was spent debating Chew’s claims that TikTok is independent of ByteDance and that ByteDance may operate freely in China as a private firm.

“I don’t believe there is a private sector in China,” California Rep. Anna Eshoo stated, citing Articles 7 and 10 of China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, which require clandestine cooperation with Chinese intelligence agencies.

“Therefore I believe there is a significant problem in terms of our national security about the safety of user data,” Shoo stated. She noted that any promises Chew made about siloing US data were consequently difficult to believe: “The Chinese government is not going to give it up.”

Numerous members also cited a Wall Street Journal report released hours before the hearing in which Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Shu Jueting said Beijing would oppose the Biden administration’s proposal to sell TikTok to US owners.

According to MPs, this proved that the Chinese government believed it had some control over TikTok, even if Chew did not acknowledge it. “I disagree with that characterization,” Chew said, failing to elaborate on the claim.

“I cannot speak for a Chinese government official,” he explained.

Chew did, however, disclose being in recent touch with ByteDance after being asked by Rep. Michael Burgess, a Republican from Texas, if he had discussed how to testify with TikTok’s parent business.

“Congressman, this is a high-level hearing.” “My phone is filled of well-wishers,” Chew responded, adding that “many people from all over the world were giving me wishes and unsolicited advise.”

Burgess then inquired of Chew whether the “attorneys representing ByteDance” also represented TikTok. “I believe so,” he responded.

Censorship Accusations

After the hearing, PEN America, a group that works for free speech, issued a statement alongside a dozen other rights groups urging Congress not to ban TikTok, which it said would have “severe ramifications for free expression in the digital domain.”

A group of TikTok users also held a news conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday evening, calling on Congress to cease its campaign to ban TikTok, led by Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat from New York, who said TikTok was no worse than American-owned social media.

“Why the hysteria, panic, and TikTok targeting?” Bowman stated at the ceremony. “It offers roughly the same threat that businesses like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter pose.”

Yet it was the purported control of China’s government over TikTok that occupied the thoughts of most legislators on the energy and commerce committee on Thursday, with virtually all appearing convinced that Beijing has ultimate control over TikTok’s U.S. operations.

When asked explicitly if TikTok was restricting information about problems like China’s extermination of the Uyghur ethnic group or the 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy, Chew was steadfast.

“We do not eliminate such type of stuff,” he explained. “That type of content is available on our platform.” You can go look for it.”

In the end, just a few of the committee members were persuaded. “Very frankly,” said Rep. Linda Blunt Rochester, a Democrat from Delaware, “your testimony has created more questions for me than answers.”

Info source – Eurasia Review

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