President Donald Trump claims that TikTok will “be out of business in the United States” on September 15th if its Chinese parent company ByteDance doesn’t sell it and provide the US Treasury Department with “a lot of money,” backing off an earlier claim that he planned to “ban” the app over the weekend. This follows reports that Microsoft negotiated a 45-day window to acquire the company, something it confirmed yesterday in a blog post.
Trump announced the news at the White House today and elaborated on how he believes Microsoft or another “big,” “secure,” and “very American” company should buy TikTok. He argued that it should buy the entirety of the company from ByteDance – not just its operations in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – because “I think buying 30 percent is complicated.”
The president also asserted that any deal will have to send “a very substantial portion” of the price into the Treasury Department’s coffers. He didn’t explain what this meant, but he offered an ominous comparison between the US government’s relationship with companies and the relationship between a landlord and a tenant. “Right now they don’t have any rights unless we give it to them, so if we’re going to give them the rights then it has to come into this country. It’s a little bit like the landlord-tenant [relationship]. Without a lease the tenant has nothing,” Trump said.
He says that TikTok will “close down on September 15th unless Microsoft or somebody else is able to buy it and work out an appropriate deal so the Treasury, I guess you would say, of the United States gets a lot of money.” Microsoft’s post about buying TikTok also referenced “providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”
The Trump administration has been floating a “ban” on TikTok for several weeks without much detail, citing a mix of potential national security threats and a desire to punish China for its handling of the coronavirus. In the past week, the administration has settled on requiring ByteDance to spin off TikTok – something that the administration’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) can require.
CFIUS can penalize ByteDance if it doesn’t sell off TikTok, but Trump’s “ban” language has much more sweeping implications. There’s virtually no precedent for the US government literally denying American access to an app, particularly one that isn’t charged with any legal violations directly relating to that ban. Trump also hasn’t explained in detail how he would effect this kind of American equivalent to China’s Great Firewall. However, a spinoff of TikTok – particularly by Microsoft – looks increasingly likely.