ByteDance does not stray from its ambitions to become a global technology powerhouse, even as a TikTok loses its largest market, India, and faces insurmountable challenges in the United States. But some in China criticize the Beijing-based company as being too accommodating and yielding to US demands.
ByteDance said it would “remain committed to our vision of becoming a globalized company,” despite the many challenges that came with it, a statement released late Sunday said.
After months of trying to influence US regulators and the public, TikTok grudgingly made two concessions: “We were faced with the real possibility that CFIUS would force the US business from TikTok to be sold, or an executive order ordering the TikTok app in the United States, ”said ByteDance founder and CEO Zhang Yiming wrote in a letter to employees on Monday.
The TikTok saga continues to develop every hour. At the time of writing Microsoft has confirmed that there are talks with U.S. officials to pursue a TikTok purchase. Trump previously said he would not support an American company̵
At the end of China, Zhang told employees that the company “has initiated preliminary talks with a technology company to pave the way for the TikTok app to continue to be offered in the United States.” The news confirms the app’s general manager, Vanessa Pappas, confirming that TikTok “has no intention of going anywhere”.
Zhang is unafraid of his frustration in the letter: “We disagree with CFIUS ‘conclusion because we are always committed to user security, platform neutrality and transparency. However, we understand their decision in the current macro environment. “
Angry internet users
But ByteDance’s responses have clearly not resonated with some people in China. On Weibo, a microblogging platform popular in China, hundreds of anonymous users joined a post on Zhang’s letter and cursed him, among other things, as a traitor to China, an American apologist, and a coward.
“Zhang Yiming praised the US for allowing debates, unlike in China, where opinions are one-sided. Now he’s got a slap in the face, why doesn’t he fight with the United States? “Chastised one of the most popular comments with over 3,600 likes.
The commentator appears to be referring to some of Zhang’s Weibo posts from the early 2010s that some may view as liberal and put the entrepreneur in the “public intellectual” rank. The term has been viewed as derogatory in recent years because Internet patriots consider the group to be ignorant and followers of Western values.
“The general view of Chinese social media users is that this is an important measure in the ongoing trade war between the United States and China. They also believe that these steps are being taken because of TikTok’s success and that it is now a threat to US platforms like Facebook and Twitter, ”said Rich Bishop, CEO of AppInChina, which publishes international apps and games in China.
Zhang’s Weibo account is currently suspended, presumably to prevent angry patriot armies from flooding his posts.
It is difficult to assess how representative the online mood is for the Chinese public or whether the discourse is staged by state-paid commentators. However, Beijing seemed relatively resigned to the rage on the Internet. A State Department spokesman only denied the US allegations against TikTok that were invented “out of nowhere” during regular press. (There is still no concrete evidence publicly provided by the U.S. government to support its claims that TikTok is a national security threat.)
After all, the Chinese government can’t do much to take revenge, as there are few examples of American internet giants doing significant business in China.
Sympathy of peers
Startups and investors in China are more positive about ByteDance. Many agree that the Microsoft deal could be the least bad result for TikTok.
“You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said William Bao Bean, general partner at Chinaccelerator, a cross-border accelerator supported by SOSV. “We are in a rapidly changing regulatory environment. I think consumers would probably want to continue using the service and this is one possible way to do it. Obviously, I don’t think ByteDance really wants it. “
The Bishop of AppInChina reminded us of Microsoft’s non-confrontational attitude towards Beijing. “I think it’s a good result for all sides. Microsoft naturally benefits enormously from the entry into social media. Bytedance is getting a good payout, and Bytedance and the Chinese government are relatively friendly to Microsoft. “
The tech community is aware that TikTok is a rarity. Although the backlash will have a deterrent effect on Chinese companies expanding into the U.S. and possibly other western markets, there simply aren’t many Internet companies going from China to the west at all.
“Most of the solutions developed for China don’t solve the problems that people in the West have,” said Bao Bean.
Chinese games are likely to have the best chance of conquering the West, as WeChat parent Tencent demonstrated through aggressive acquisitions and numerous hits. Smaller developers use the strategy of “complaining” about their Chinese origin.
“We just don’t do media interviews,” said the CEO of a US-listed Chinese internet company on condition of anonymity.
“It’s not about the cooling effect. The problem is that there are no more opportunities in the USA, Canada, Australia or India. The chances of success in Europe are also getting smaller and the risks are increasing considerably, ”complained a former manager who oversaw the Chinese business of an American giant and asked not to be named.
“From now on, Chinese companies that operate globally can only look to Southeast Asia, Africa and South America.”