TikTok has announced that it will exit from the Hong Kong market after China’s new national security law came into effect on June 30. The new law has broad and sweeping powers that allow China to prosecute and punish any Hong Kong residents who speak out against Chinese interests, or against the Chinese Communist Party. One of the pretenses for the new law is, as always, to fight terrorism.
The international community has reacted with condemnation towards the law, which appears to violate the one-China, two-systems rule in place for Hong Kong since the 1990s. But while world governments have responded in a range of ways, many have wondered how tech companies that have a strong presence in Hong Kong will react.
Now we know that one tech company, ByteDance, will pull its uber-popular app TikTok from the region for good. That’s according to a report from Reuters. A TikTok spokesperson confirmed to the organization, “In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong.”
At first, this might seem like a bigger deal than it is, however. That’s because TikTok is simply leaving Hong Kong. ByteDance, which is itself a Chinese company, is not saying goodbye to China. TikTok is not available in mainland China, but ByteDance has always had what is essentially a TikTok clone in China called Douyin. Douyin will continue to live on in mainland China even as TikTok leaves Hong Kong.
The reason ByteDance had these two separate apps in the first place is so the company could operate both internally in its home country, China, while expanding globally into foreign markets, too. With TikTok leaving Hong Kong, TikTok gets to say it’s standing up against the new security law, while its parent company still gets to keep China happy since its Douyin app available in the country has always abided by Chinese rules—rules which Hong Kong TikTok users had always been protected against, until last week.
Another reason TikTok leaving Hong Kong isn’t as monumental for the company as it seems is that, as Reuters points out, TikTok only had 150,000 users in Hong Kong as of last August. That’s small change compared to TikTok’s global user base of 2 billion. A ByteDance told Reuters that there are currently no plans to bring Douyin to Hong Kong.
In related news, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has revealed the Trump administration is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, reports CNN Business. TikTok has long been in the sights of U.S. lawmakers who worry the app could be forced to feed data on U.S. users to China’s government.
Of course, Trump has other reasons not to like TikTok, considering its users ruined his rally in Tulsa last month.