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Trump preps bans on WeChat, TikTok, stoking tension with China

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(Last Updated On: August 7, 2020)

U.S. President Donald Trump has unveiled sweeping bans on U.S. transactions with the Chinese owners of messaging app WeChat and video-sharing app TikTok, escalating a high-stakes confrontation with Beijing over the future of the global tech industry.

The executive orders announced Thursday and effective in 45 days come after the Trump administration this week flagged increased effort to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks, calling Tencent Holdings Ltd’s <0700.HK> WeChat and Bytedance’s popular TikTok “significant threats.”

China said on Friday the companies comply with U.S. laws and regulations and warned that the United States would have to “bear the consequences” of its action.

“The U.S. is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses. That’s just a hegemonic practice,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing.

TikTok has come under fire from U.S. lawmakers over national security concerns surrounding data collection as distrust between Washington and Beijing grows. Reuters on Sunday reported that Trump has given Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> 45 days to complete the purchase of TikTok’s U.S. operations.

“We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process,” TikTok said in a statement on Friday, adding that it would “pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded”.

The ban on U.S. transactions with Tencent, one of the world’s biggest internet companies, portends further fracturing of the global internet and severing of long-standing ties between the tech industries in the United States and China.

“This is the rupture in the digital world between the U.S. and China,” said James Lewis, a technology expert with Washington-based think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Absolutely, China will retaliate.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expanded a program dubbed “Clean Network” to prevent various Chinese apps and telecoms firms from accessing sensitive information on U.S. citizens and businesses.

Trump’s new orders appeared coordinated with Pompeo’s announcement, Lewis said.

“We are reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding,” a Tencent spokesperson said.

ByteDance declined to comment.

WeChat has been downloaded a relatively small 19 million times in the United States, showed data from Sensor Tower. In China, however, the app is ubiquitous as a medium for services as varied as games and payment. It is also a common platform to communicate with individuals and businesses outside China.

U.S. social media and messaging services such Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp and Messenger are blocked in China, where a “great firewall” prevents citizens from freely accessing the worldwide web, and where online communication is routinely monitored and censored.

U.S. concerns about China’s tech industry had until recently focused on telecom equipment vendor Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL]. As relations soured over a host of economic and human rights issues, it has sanctioned numerous other Chinese tech firms.

Tencent is the biggest target yet. It is Asia’s second most-valuable company after Alibaba Group Holding Ltd <BABA.N> with a market capitalization of $686 billion, and is among the world’s largest social media and video game companies. It opened a California gaming studio this summer and owns minority stakes in numerous gaming and internet firms around the world, including U.S. messaging app operator Snap Inc.

Trump’s order sent Asian stock markets lower on Friday, with Tencent shares falling as far as 10.1% before recouping some of its losses in afternoon trade. [MKTS/GLOB]

The yuan, a barometer of Sino-U.S. relations, posted its steepest drop since the United States expelled China from its Houston consulate a little over two weeks ago. [CNY/]

Trump issued the orders under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law that grants the administration sweeping power to bar U.S. firms or citizens from trading or conducting financial transactions with sanctioned parties.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will identify transactions covered after the orders take effect in mid-September.

Tension has been simmering between the two powers for months, with the United States taking issue with China’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. The increasingly aggressive posture towards China comes as Trump bids for re-election in November.

Trump said this week he would support Microsoft’s efforts to buy TikTok’s U.S. operations if the U.S. government got a “substantial portion” of the proceeds. He nevertheless said he will ban the popular app on Sept. 15, though some Republicans have raised concerns about potential political fallout.

The app may be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, and the United States “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security,” Trump said in one order.

In the other, Trump said WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”

The United States is not alone in its concern about Chinese internet apps: WeChat and TikTok were among 59 mostly Chinese apps that India outlawed in June for threatening its “sovereignty and integrity”.

The WeChat order would effectively ban the app in the United States by barring “to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.”

It was not clear whether the sanction would effect Tencent’s other holdings in the country.

Meanwhile, WeChat users in the United States were quickly evaluating alternatives.

“Banning WeChat is against America’s liberal principles,” Jeason Ma, a 33-year-old in Los Angeles who obtained U.S. citizenship in November, told Reuters. “Most of our family and friends are in China. This will cause significant inconvenience to our lives.”

Ma has been sharing his account information for WhatsApp and messaging rival Line Corp with friends and family, fearing he could lose access to WeChat.

The order “calls TikTok a national security threat,” said Derek Scissors, an expert on Sino-U.S. economic relations at the American Enterprise Institute think-tank. “Either we’ve missed the threat for three years or it just became one and yet we are waiting 45 days.”

Source: Reuters

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Karzai says Pakistan must not interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs

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(Last Updated On: October 18, 2021)

Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said the current Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) government in needs internal legitimacy in order for it to gain international recognition and that Pakistan should not interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs.

In an interview with VOA, Karzai said that internal legitimacy could only be achieved through the expression of the will of the Afghan people, either in the form of elections or holding the Loya Jirga, a traditional grand council.

He said that Afghanistan is at a critical juncture in its history and Afghans have a responsibility to “unite” and create a government premised on “the expression of the will of the Afghan people.”

“Legitimacy within our own country for this government (IEA) or for any other government is the foundation of recognition by countries and the international community,” Karzai said.

Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Quresh, have advocated for the IEA and have urged the international community to work with the new government in Kabul.

“If we neglect Afghanistan right now, there’s a huge humanitarian crisis looming ahead, and this will have serious repercussions not just for the neighbors of Afghanistan, but it will have repercussions everywhere,” Imran Khan told the U.N. General Assembly in September.

“We must strengthen this current government, stabilize it, for the sake of the people of Afghanistan. What have the Taliban (IEA) promised? They will respect human rights, they will have an inclusive government, they will not allow this soil to be used by terrorists,” Khan added.

Karzai told VOA that Pakistan is not the representative of the Afghan people.

“My message to Pakistan, our brotherly country, is that they should not try to represent Afghanistan. On the contrary, the country should try to establish a civil relationship with our country,” he said.

“We have deep people-to-people relations with Pakistan. … Our hope from Pakistan is that the country should not try to maintain its relations with us through interference, the encouragement of extremism and terrorism or by force, but rather establish relations with Afghanistan through civil principles and principles of international relations, and we will happily maintain that relationship with them,” he added.

Karzai also voiced concerns about the Islamic State (Daesh) terror group’s uptick in violence in Afghanistan and deemed it a threat to both Afghanistan and the region.

The militant group’s local branch, known as the Islamic State Khorasan, has claimed responsibility for several vicious attacks in recent weeks in Kabul, Kunduz and Kandahar provinces, where more than 100 civilians have been killed and many others wounded.

“As proven by the unfortunate bomb blasts — rather, suicide attacks in the mosque in Kabul two weeks ago, then in Kunduz last week, and then in Kandahar yesterday (October 15) — this has proven that Daesh is a threat to Afghanistan and to the life and livelihood of the Afghan people,” Karzai said.

Karzai showed optimism that the region will support Afghanistan in its fight against Daesh because it could pose a threat to their security. In addition, he said he hopes that regional powers would seek common ground in Afghanistan,.

He said it is Afghanistan’s responsibility to work with other countries in the region in a way that results in peace and stability.

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U.S. Secretary of State Blinken discusses Afghanistan with Qatar

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(Last Updated On: October 18, 2021)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has discussed the situation in Afghanistan with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, thanking Qatar for helping with evacuations from Kabul, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price says.

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke today with Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani about Afghanistan. Secretary Blinken thanked Qatar for its strong partnership on regional security issues and assistance to safely transit U.S. citizens, Lawful Permanent

The readout of the call released by the State Department did not given any details, except that Blinken acknowledged Qatar’s assistance to transit U.S. citizens and Afghans at risk.

On Wednesday, Qatar’s foreign minister proposed creating a unified platform for international cooperation on Afghanistan.

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Russia-led bloc holds large-scale drills near Tajik-Afghan border

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(Last Updated On: October 18, 2021)

A Russia-led post-Soviet security bloc started its largest military drills near the Tajik-Afghan border in years on Monday amid cross-border tensions ahead of talks between Afghanistan’s new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) leaders and major regional powers, Reuters reported.

Unlike Afghanistan’s other northern neighbours who have de facto acknowledged the IEA leadership and started building working relationships with Kabul, Tajikistan has refused to recognise the IEA and there are reports of troop build-ups on both sides of the border.

According to the report the exercise carried out by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) will involve over 5,000 servicemen, more than half of them Russian soldiers, Russia and Tajikistan’s defence ministries said.

The six-day drills follow a series of smaller-scale exercises held in the vicinity of the Afghan border by Russia and its Central Asian allies in August and September.

Russia is worried about the possibility of Islamist militants infiltrating the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which Moscow views as its southern defensive buffer, Reuters reported.

Moscow operates a military base in the former Soviet republic and has reassured Dushanbe it would assist it in the event of any cross-border intrusion.

A high-level IEA delegation is set to visit Moscow this week for talks that will also involve China, Pakistan, India and Iran, although a senior Russian official has been reported as saying he did not expect any breakthrough.

Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, also said officials from Russia, the United States, China and Pakistan would meet separately in Moscow on Tuesday to come up with a united position on the changing situation in Afghanistan.

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