From Washington to Berlin, New Delhi to Shanghai, Chinese tech companies remain entangled in geopolitical conflicts this week. In the US, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app Tiktok just won an initial success in its legal challenge against the Trump administration. White House officials renewed pressure on Europe to ban Huawei from their next-generation 5G networks after German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused a full ban on the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker. A new round of export bans were imposed on China’s largest chipmaker SMIC by the US. In India, banned Chinese apps are trying to re-enter the market with revised names and logos.

Tiktok’s initial win

On Sunday, a US judge halted a looming Tiktok ban at the last minute. The ban, announced by US President Donald Trump last Friday, would have removed Tiktok from American app stores starting from midnight Sunday.

  • The injunction granted by US District Judge Carl Nichols gave Tiktok a temporary reprieve amid ongoing deal negotiations to meet with Trump’s demand to sell Tiktok’s US operations. 
  • However, the judge didn’t consider Tiktok’s appeal to block an executive order from Trump demanding the company to divest from its American assets, according to court documents. The order, requiring Tiktok parent Bytedance to either spin off or sell the app’s US operations within 90 days, will go effect on Nov. 12.
  • Bytedance has applied to the Chinese government for a deal that would give American software maker Oracle and retail giant Walmart a combined 20% stake of Tiktok’s proposed US business. Beijing hasn’t yet made a final decision, but smoke signals from state media indicate opposition.
  • In the past week, the party mouthpiece People’s Daily published three editorials commenting on the Tiktok deal. One of which (in Chinese) reads: “The ‘Tiktok deal’ is based on unfairness… If the forced deal finally goes that way, American stakeholders would earn tens of billions of dollars…then why do they need venture capital and entrepreneurship in the country when they can just mug Chinese companies?” (our translation).
  • “China won’t swallow its tears when its core interests are endangered, and Chinese companies are not lambs to the US slaughter,” said another editorial (in Chinese).
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US renews campaign to ban Huawei in Europe

On Tuesday, Keith Krach, the US undersecretary of state for economic affairs, said Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson were the only companies that European governments should choose for the 5G network rollouts. Huawei is “an arm of the CCP surveillance state and a tool for human rights abuse,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

  • Krach’s remarks came as Germany and Italy are deciding whether to allow Huawei to participate in building their 5G networks. Last week, Merkel refused to compromise on her position that Germany shouldn’t single out Huawei with a targeted ban, Bloomberg  reported. Her government finalized draft regulations for the security of Germany’s 5G network, which would tighten the government’s scrutiny over equipment vendors.
  • Before Germany made its 5G decisions, the UK and France had adopted a de-facto ban on Huawei, vowing to phase the company’s products out from their 5G and 4G networks in the next few years.

SMIC on Huawei’s heels

Shares of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) tumbled more than 6% this week after reports that the US had imposed restrictions on exports to the Shanghai-based chipmaker. The decision was made by the US Commerce Department on Friday upon the conclusion that SMIC’s products could be used for military purposes and therefore pose “unacceptable risk,” Reuters reported Saturday.

  • The Commerce Department said in a letter to some suppliers of SMIC that they will now have to apply for individual export licenses to ship to the Chinese company.
  • On Monday, the Shanghai-listed company said in a statement (in Chinese) filed with the Shanghai bourse that it had not received any official notifications about the restrictions from the US government. The company also said it had no relationship with the Chinese military and had never produced products for military end-users.
  • Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbing told reporters Monday that China opposes (in Chinese) US restrictions on SMIC and that the country would take necessary measures to safeguard the interests of Chinese enterprises.

Chinese apps launch second offensive into India

In India, several Chinese apps previously banned by New Delhi are trying to reenter the market with rebranded versions, local newspaper The Economic Times reported.

  • Chinese video app Kuaishou has launched video-sharing app Snack Video, a Tiktok lookalike. Kwai, an international version of Kuaishou, as well as Tiktok were both banned in India in June.
  • Hago, another Chinese social media app banned in June, has been replaced by an app called Ola Party, which allows users to log in using their Hago credentials, according to The Economic Times.
  • The Indian government has banned a total of 177 Chinese apps from the country in two rounds of app bans imposed in June and September. The most high-profile apps banned including Bytedance’s Tiktok, Kuaishou’s Kwai, Tencent’s instant messaging app Wechat and the popular mobile game Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, or PUBG.