TikTok owner ByteDance earns praise from Chinese social media for rejecting US sell-or-ban ultimatum

TikTok owner ByteDance earns praise from Chinese social media for rejecting US sell-or-ban ultimatum

ByteDance has earned praise from Chinese social media for denying a report that it was weighing a divestment of TikTok’s operations in America, a day after the United States government enacted into law a sell-or-ban ultimatum against the popular short video app.

Beijing-based ByteDance late on Thursday rejected a report by US digital publication The Information, which said that it was “exploring scenarios” to sell a majority stake in TikTok’s US operations to firms outside the technology industry and without the algorithm that powers the platform.

In a statement posted on its Jinri Toutiao news platform, ByteDance said that it had no plans to sell TikTok. This marked the second time this year that ByteDance broke its silence on TikTok, following its denial of a report by The Wall Street Journal that company co-founder Zhang Yiming had discussed a sale of the short video platform’s US business to potential buyers.

The official denials issued by ByteDance show the company’s confidence in TikTok’s anticipated legal challenge to the US sell-or-ban measure against the social media platform.

In this file photo, a person arrives at the offices of TikTok in Culver City, California. Photo: Reuters

ByteDance sees TikTok as having “a chance to win” when its challenge to the US measure finally ends up in court, according to a source close to the matter, who declined to be named because the legal strategy is private.

The company would also prefer to shut down TikTok’s US operations rather than divest it after exhausting all legal options to fight the US sell-or-ban measure, according to a Reuters report on Friday that cited four sources.

Of the 52 comments to ByteDance’s denial on Jinri Toutiao, seven extolled the firm for “having a backbone” and sticking to its principles in spite of a potential commercial backlash in the US. Four other comment praised the company for “never bowing down to the US”.

On Weibo, China’s biggest microblogging site, the reaction to ByteDance’s denial noted broader issues at play. Some commenters pointed out that TikTok’s problems in the US have become political and that “a sale would be seen as treason”, while others added that ByteDance “wouldn’t dare” divest the platform’s business in America.

TikTok chief executive Chew Shou Zi faces reporters after a meeting with Senator John Fetterman, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, in Washington on March 14, 2024. Photo: Bloomberg

TikTok chief executive Chew Shou Zi had earlier expressed optimism about the social media platform’s legal position. “The facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail again,” Chew said in a video message posted on Wednesday, moments after US President Joe Biden signed into law the legislative measure against TikTok.

The Chinese government, meanwhile, has indicated that it would strongly oppose a forced sale of TikTok. Privately held ByteDance is subject to Chinese laws, which means regulatory authorities can veto any deal involving the sale or transfer of the platform’s technology.

In 2020, then-US President Donald Trump had pushed for a sell-or-ban ultimatum on TikTok that led to deal between ByteDance and Oracle to acquire the platform. Beijing, however, stepped in after updating the nation’s export control list and requiring government approval for the sale or transfer of the algorithm behind the app.

TikTok accounts for a small share of ByteDance’s total revenue and daily active users, according to sources cited in the Reuters report. At present, the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, accounts for a hefty share of ByteDance sales.

Biden has set a January 19 deadline – one day before his term is to expire – for the sale of TikTok’s US operations, but he could grant a three-month extension if it is determined that ByteDance is making progress.



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