US President Donald Trump said Monday that popular Chinese-owned video app TikTok would be "out of business" in the United States if it did not sell its US operations by mid-September, okaying Microsoft's talks with the company.
“I set a date of around September 15, at which point it’s going to be out of business in the United States,” he told reporters.
“It’ll close down on September 15th unless Microsoft or somebody else is able to buy it and work out a deal.”
Trump’s latest comments on the embattled social media app added pressure on TikTok’s parent ByteDance to reach a deal amid Washington’s claims it threatens US national security.
But Trump also threw a new surprise condition in any deal, saying the sale of TikTok’s US business would have to result in a significant payout to the US Treasury for initiating it.
“A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States, because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen,” Trump told reporters.
“They don’t have any rights unless we give it to them,” he said.
A billion users
Used by as many as a billion people worldwide to make quirky 60-second videos on their cellphones, TikTok is the latest front in the ongoing political and trade battles between Washington and Beijing.
The United States maintains that TikTok collects users’ personal data that the Chinese government can access and make use of for intelligence and other purposes.
The app has been under formal investigation on US national security grounds.
While TikTok denies its user data goes to the Chinese government, ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming said earlier it was working around-the-clock “for the best outcome.”
“We have always been committed to ensuring user data security, as well as the platform neutrality and transparency,” Zhang told employees in an internal statement, according to Chinese media.
However, he said, the company faces “mounting complexities across the geopolitical landscape and significant external pressure.”
He said the company must confront the challenge from US security bodies and Trump, though “without giving up exploring any possibilities.”
According to Britain’s The Sun newspaper Monday, as a possible alternative move, ByteDance is planning to relocate TikTok’s global operations to Britain.
Its current international operations are headquartered in offices in Los Angeles.
Hugely popular with young people around the world, TikTok allows users to create and share videos of up to a minute, featuring dancing and lip syncs, commentary from the silly to serious, and sophisticated artistic clips.
TikTok denies it could be a tool for Chinese intelligence, and says data on its international users is kept on servers outside of China.
But on Sunday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the data that companies like TikTok are gleaning about Americans “could be their facial recognition pattern; it could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends, who they’re connected to.”
China’s foreign ministry pushed back Monday, calling Washington hypocritical for demanding TikTok be sold.
“The US is using an abused concept of national security and, without providing any evidence, is making presumptions of guilt and issuing threats to relevant companies,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin.
“This goes against the principle of market economy and exposes the hypocrisy and typical double standards of the US in upholding so-called fairness and freedom,” he added.
Speaking at the White House Monday, Trump said he preferred if a “very American” company bought all of TikTok, rather than just a large stake.
“You can’t be controlled, for security reasons, by China. Too big, too invasive,” he said.
The real estate tycoon-turned-politician explained his demand for a payment to the Treasury from any takeover of TikTok by likening it to the practice by landlords, illegal in many places including Trump’s base in New York, of demanding under-the-table “key money” from new tenants in addition to the rent.
Microsoft had no immediate comment but in a statement on Sunday said that if it finalized a takeover, it was committed to “providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”