Lawmaker says sale of TikTok to US company could avoid outright ban

A Republican congressman who has introduced legislation to ban TikTok in the US has said the sale of the Chinese-owned video-sharing app to an American company would be “one acceptable outcome”.

Republican congressman Mike Gallagher, a prominent China critic who is poised to take on an influential role when the new Congress is sworn in on Tuesday, likened ByteDance’s social media company to “digital fentanyl”. Like the opioid, the platform was “addictive and destructive”, he said, and “ultimately goes back to the Chinese Communist party”.

“TikTok is owned by ByteDance; ByteDance is effectively controlled by the CCP. So, we have to ask whether we want the CCP to control what is on the cusp of becoming the most powerful media company in America,” Gallagher told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment. It has previously called the proposed ban as a “political gesture” that will not help national security.

Gallagher’s comments come after a flurry of legislative action in Washington relating to TikTok in the run-up to Christmas, and growing calls from across America’s political spectrum to crack down on the Chinese-owned app.

The US Senate last month voted unanimously to approve a bill barring federal employees from using TikTok on government devices, and the bipartisan spending bill to fund the US government included a provision to ban the app on all federally managed devices. More than a dozen US states, including Maryland, Texas and Iowa, have already taken action to bar their employees from installing TikTok on government devices.

Gallagher has introduced legislation with Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, to ban TikTok entirely in the US. The legislation also has the backing of several Democrats.

Gallagher said on Sunday that the bill would allow for the sale of TikTok to an American company, calling it a “workable solution”.

“What we don’t want is some quasi-solution where there’s a data centre in Singapore, but the CCP and ByteDance effectively retains control,” he added.

Gallagher, 38, is a former Marine counter-intelligence officer who has emerged as a leading China hawk on Capitol Hill since first being elected to Congress in 2016.

Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican who is hoping to be elected Speaker of the House this week when the new Congress is sworn in, said last month that he would name Gallagher to lead a new “China select committee” to push for a tougher approach from Washington towards Beijing.

Several leading Republicans, including Rubio, have been critical of the Biden administration for the pace of its security review of TikTok under the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (Cfius).

Gallagher said he wanted to work with the Biden administration on his proposals, saying: “I don’t think this should be a partisan issue. I want to work with [the White House]. And I think the Senate vote [to ban TikTok on government devices] is evidence that this isn’t a partisan issue.”

Last month, FBI director Chris Wray said TikTok could be used to facilitate espionage and that Beijing had the ability to control the app’s algorithm in ways that would facilitate “influence operations” in the US.

“All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values and that has a mission that’s very much at odds with what’s in the best interest of the United States,” Wray said at the time. “That should concern us.”

Shortly before Christmas, ByteDance admitted it inappropriately obtained the data of users, including a Financial Times journalist, in order to analyse their location as part of an internal leaks investigation.

Two members of staff in the US and two in China gained access to the IP addresses and other personal data of FT journalist Cristina Criddle, to work out if she was in the proximity of any ByteDance employees, the company said following an internal investigation led by its global compliance team and an external law firm.

Additional reporting by Dave Lee in San Francisco


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