A federal judge in California has issued an injunction against President Donald Trump’s move to ban WeChat, the most popular Chinese messaging and payment transfer app, from operating in the United States.
The app, which is used by over 20 million people in the US, has become an additional point of contention in the escalating US-China tensions. As with recent restrictions imposed on TikTok, Huawei, and ZTE, the ban was grounded in national security concerns.
Judge Laurel Beeler of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California acknowledged that the WeChat ban raised serious questions about whether the ban was in violation of First Amendment rights, which grants freedom of speech.
“The specific evidence about WeChat is modest,” she stated, adding that “the regulation — which eliminates a channel of communication without any apparent substitutes — burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s significant interest.”
WeChat and TikTok, another Chinese-owned social networking service, were both set to be banned from Sunday last week after a press release from the US Department of Commerce criticised them for being “subject to mandatory cooperation with the intelligence services of the CCP.”
“At the President’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations,” said US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
However, TikTok has since been granted a week-long reprieve by Trump to move ahead with a deal between TikTok, Oracle, and Walmart.
The injunction will do little to cool the increasing tensions between the United States and China over the right to control the global technology landscape. Trump’s move to ban WeChat now resembles earlier moves by China to ban American apps such as Twitter and Facebook, both of which were removed from Chinese app stores in 2009 when Chinese officials realised they were not able to fully censor the information shared on those platforms.
Seemingly in response to the US government’s escalation, China’s Commerce Ministry declared on Saturday that foreign companies added to their “unreliable entities list” would be prohibited from investing in China or trading with the Chinese market. The list will supposedly target foreign companies who are deemed to be violating normal market transactions in China or taking discriminatory measures against Chinese firms.
The Chinese government has yet to announce the companies that have made it onto the list, but suggestions have been made in state media that Apple, Qualcomm, and Cisco could be part of those sanctioned companies if relations between the US and China continue to worsen.
In a statement, the Chinese Commerce Ministry was highly critical of Trump’s proposed ban, stating that “Without providing evidence, the United States has repeatedly used its national power to hunt and suppress the above two companies for unwarranted reasons, seriously disrupting the normal business activities of the companies and undermining the confidence of international investors in the US investment environment.”
In response to the ban, WeChat’s parent company Tencent has stated that “The Company has been engaging and will continue to engage in discussions with the U.S. government and other stakeholders in the United States to achieve a longterm solution.”