A Generation Z video app that showcases fun, self-made videos could trigger a reckoning regarding the United States’ goals and ideals. TikTok’s founder and its application are under fire because the company – not the app itself – operates from China. TikTok foreshadows what China seeks (world technical leadership) and what the United States dreads (loss of technical supremacy). Michael Schuman details in The Atlantic how the superpowers’ tussle over TikTok will reverberate for both nations.
A few years ago, United States’ investors would have celebrated TikTok. Now, China is more a “strategic enemy” than a possible partner.
Zhang Yiming embodies a United States’ foreign policy goal: to create entrepreneurs in China. Zhang worked at Chinese start-ups and Microsoft before he founded ByteDance, which owns TikTok. Now, Generation Z Americans flock to the video app to share dance moves, jokes and funny videos, but Washington isn’t laughing. Though US investors would have celebrated Zhang a few years ago, today China’s aggressive tech policies and surveillance-state ethos make Washington wary of TikTok’s influence.
Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, calls TikTok a “Trojan horse” that provides information to Beijing. The US government’s concern is that the Chinese could gather data about Americans from TikTok and use it for harmful purposes. For instance, given China’s record of collecting information on its own citizens, opponents believe it could use TikTok data to “identify or blackmail” Americans.
Zhang, who says he isn’t a Communist Party member, claims his government...