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Biden pauses action against Chinese apps, as Bloomberg details ‘the Long Hack’

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The new US president is suspending actions started by the former Trump administration against Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat.

The new US government, led by President Joe Biden, said it was looking again at the cases so that it is can “be better positioned to determine” whether they pose a threat that justifies prohibitions.

Former president Donald Trump signed executive orders in August 2020 banning transactions that use TikTok and WeChat, and reducing access to them in the US.

Meanwhile Bloomberg has this morning published the results of a long investigation into what it calls “the Long Hack” — allegations that spying devices were implanted into computers made in China for California-based Supermicro, without Supermicro’s knowledge.

The report quotes Jay Tabb, a former senior FBI official, as saying: “It’s an example of the worst-case scenario if you don’t have complete supervision over where your devices are manufactured.” That’s a remark that will be heard by the security officials and the senior management of telecoms equipment and phone makers that outsource production to factories in China.

This week’s move in Washington DC doesn’t quite mark a complete 180° turn by the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Commerce (DoC) which, under Trump, were claiming each of the apps was “an active participant in China’s civil-military fusion and is subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party].”

The Trump administration said in September 2020: “This combination results in the use of WeChat and TikTok creating unacceptable risks to our national security.”

But the action does mean a pause that might lead to a reversal, perhaps leading to the easing of other restrictions on Chinese technology.

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On two successive days, Biden’s administration has asked a federal court to pause proceedings aimed at banning TikTok and just yesterday sought to suspend the case against WeChat.

The DoJ said it wants to carry out “an evaluation of the underlying record justifying those prohibitions”.

Meanwhile there were indications this week that the Biden administration might be easing Trump’s so-called Clean Networks campaign, under which Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE are banned and which has also led to China Mobile’s being refused a licence and threats to withdraw licences from China Telecom and China Unicom.

Reports this week noted that the section of the State Department’s website dealing with Clean Networks has been archived.

However, it is too early to be certain, as the prospective heads of the relevant departments have not yet been confirmed.

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, has taken a tough stance on China’s treatment of Hong Kong and of Muslim Uyghurs is Xinjiang and has tended to support continued wariness about Chinese vendors. Meanwhile Gina Raimondo, nominated as Commerce Secretary, has refused to commit herself one way or the other over Huawei.

 

 

 

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