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Trump to ban Alipay and WeChat Pay, but only after he leaves office

Alipay shop.jpg

Outgoing US president Donald Trump has taken action to ban the use in the country of Chinese e-commerce services including Alipay and WeChat.

Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross immediately responded to Trump’s executive order (EO), saying he had “directed my Department to begin implementing” the Trump ruling.

He said: “I stand with President Trump’s commitment to protecting the privacy and security of Americans from threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party, and the Department of Commerce will leverage the authorities of the EO to continue our mission to secure the nation, the economy, and the people of the United States.”

The order comes into effect in 45 days, more than three weeks after Trump — and Ross — lose office.

It bans “any transaction … subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with persons that develop or control the following Chinese connected software applications, … Alipay (pictured), CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate, WeChat Pay, and WPS Office.”

In the order Trump alleges that “a number of Chinese connected software applications automatically capture vast swaths of information from millions of users in the United States, including sensitive personally identifiable information and private information, which would allow the PRC [Peoples’ Republic of China] and CCP [Chinese Communist Party] access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”

In particular he worries that data “would permit China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, and build dossiers of personal information”.

This would not be the first time software has been used in this way. More than three years ago, in November 2017, the US-owned fitness tracking company Strava published heat maps that showed the locations and layout of US military bases, including one in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that clearly showed soldiers’ regular jogging routes around the buildings.

The Bloomberg news agency commented on Trump’s move by saying: “The order is the outgoing administration’s latest bid to use national security powers against China’s largest technology companies, but it will be up to President-elect Joe Biden to decide whether to enforce the policy.”

So far the Biden team has said little about China, but yesterday Harvard Business School senior lecturer Andy Zelleke wrote an article warning: “Among his most daunting challenges will be to lay the foundation for decades of peaceful, constructive relations between the United States and China.”

Meanwhile the location of Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba and its offshoot, Ant Group, which owns Alipay, remains a mystery.

On 24 October 2020 he gave a speech criticising China’s financial regulatory system. The following month his group cancelled a planned share flotation on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges, worth an expected US$37 billion — apparently on the orders of Xi Jinping, president of China, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At the end of the year, Chinese authorities began an anti-trust investigation into Alibaba.

Ma disappeared from social media, including Twitter, in October, leading to speculation by some that he is in prison.

 

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