TikTok is loved by 100 million Americans because it is a home for entertainment, self-expression and connection. TikTok is considered the most valuable startup in the world, valued at USD 75,000 million. The application allows users to post funny videos, similar to Snapchat and Instagram. In total, it has been downloaded more than 2,000 million times, 307 million more than any other app in the world. Its features, which allow easy video editing, forwarding, and duet and commenting, increase users’ interest and satisfy their psychological needs. The Chinese company ByteDance owns the famous application. As a result, fears have arisen that user data collected by this company may be shared with the Xi Jinping government. This paper aims to analyze the relationship between TikTok and the exportation of Chinese culture. Moreover, past studies on TikTok and the exportation of Chinese culture will be deliberated. The motivation behind this research emanates from the fact that there are gaps in the past studies which have only sought to understand how China can use sharp power through TikTok. Still, none have discussed the relationship between TikTok and the exportation of Chinese culture. This study develops a theoretical framework as a method to understand the concept of TikTok and the exportation of Chinese culture.
Concept of TikTok and exportation of Chinese culture
Decades ago, China implemented a strategy known as “tech-nationalism”: the State plans investment in research and development with its large technology companies to depend less on abroad. This link between the public and private sectors, together with a plan to influence international markets, has allowed great technological growth. Now the leadership of the Asian giant in technologies such as 5G surprises and worries its competitors. Chinese leaders have made technology a national priority, at least since the 1970s. They have sought to join forces between the State and the business sector to become a techno-scientific power and thus boost their economic performance. Technology is essential to increase a country’s productivity and exports. But for China has also become a measure of its power and influence abroad and a key front in the fight in recent years with the United States (Piao, 2021).
Components of a techno-nationalist strategy
China is one of the main technology exporters in the world. Since the late 1970s, it has followed a technology-nationalist strategy: investment in research and development, planned by the State in conjunction with its technological champions, to reduce its dependence on foreign technologies. This process has combined a growing technological and economic protectionism with strong interventionism that has achieved, among others, that the Chinese company Huawei leads the development of the 5G network. An example is local wireless communication or Wi-Fi protocols, conceived in the United States. With the formation of the Wi-Fi Alliance in 1999, these protocols became the worldwide standards for local connectivity ( WLAN ). After the U.S. Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering established the WLAN standard in 2001, China cited security reasons for designing its own, WAPI. But security was not Beijing’s main concern . The motivation was rather economic: the Chinese Government wanted to force American companies that wanted to sell their products in China, such as Intel, to equip them with this protocol, paying for it to Chinese companies. WAPI, however, was not accepted as an international standard, and China lost the battle to Intel, which threatened to stop the sale of the chips needed to make most Chinese laptops (Piao, 2021).
Liang (2021) argues that China is not the only techno-nationalist strategy. Many of the leading corporations in the technology sector have had strong ties to the state apparatus and its military industry. It is the case of Silicon Valley, in California, the headquarters of technology companies such as Apple, Google or Facebook, a product of the union of the American public and private capital, or of some companies in the Chinese city of Shenzen, such as Huawei, which has ties to the Chinese Army. Japan and South Korea have also benefited from techno-nationalist planning of the economy by supporting their strategic companies since the second half of the 20th century.
The Japanese had limited military spending since World War II, freeing up a significant amount of capital that could be used to finance strategic technologies. During a trade war between Japan and the United States between 1970 and well into 2000 – despite being allies – the Japanese Government imposed tariffs on imports of key U.S. products to protect its market. Among them are semiconductors, basic components of electronic devices. For its part, South Korea experienced unparalleled economic growth between 1970 and 1990 in large part thanks to the fact that the state-financed business innovation projects. However, the most advanced country in the region, thanks to the techno-nationalist doctrine in China.
Interest in scientific and technological research has been constant during the tenure of the leaders who succeeded Deng: Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping, all three with engineering training. The first, Jiang, who the CCP had attacked during the Cultural Revolution for his work as a scientist, showed great interest in establishing international links of scientific cooperation to boost trade and globalize the economy. His Government (1989-2002) also invited foreign researchers to work in China. During his tenure, the occupation in the primary sector decreased and increased significantly in the service sector, a trend consolidated with Hu’s arrival. This same transfer is reflected in the rural exodus between 1989 and 2008, in which internal migration rose from 30 million to more than 140 million workers.
Jung (2020) asserts that China that Deng Xiaoping had led in the 1980s did not have an autonomous industry of its own and was dependent on foreign countries. Thirty years later, China had become the world’s second-largest economy and was wary of its competitors, prompting Xi Jinping to shut down the country itself when he came to power in 2012. Xi has sought to increase China’s growth and technological independence through Made in China 2025 or the XIV Five-Year Plan (2021-2025). The best of both plans is to turn the country into the autonomous leader of the strategic technologies of the future: artificial intelligence (A.I.), cloud storage, big data, 5G and one of its derivatives, the Internet of things.
Simon (2021) believes that the technological might of Xi’s China is based on several leading technology companies: Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi and Huawei, known by the acronym BATX (H) . . Alibaba’s A.I., for example, is used to regulate traffic in Chinese cities with high levels of pollution or in the fight against covid-19, in collaboration with the State. For its part, Baidu has funding from the Chinese Army to design the China Brain , a research project also focused on big data and human-machine interactions.In this sense, a law of June 2017 allows the State to access the data of Chinese companies abroad. This policy, however, slows down the second phase of the Asian giant’s techno-nationalist strategy: its global projection. Although it strengthens ties with its technology champions and prevents competitors from accessing its domestic market, it generates hostility in other countries. Different governments increasingly distrust Chinese companies that operate in their territory due to the possible access of the Chinese Government to sensitive data with which they work. China’s attitude, therefore, shows the tensions between a sovereign policy on the technological plane and free-market principles.
The main harasser of Chinese techno-nationalism has been the Trump Administration, which especially at the end of its mandate, imposed sanctions and trade restrictions on Chinese companies with more projection, such as the Tiktok video platform or Huawei. The latter is already leading the 5G research; high-speed internet applications will have to adapt to your standard if your domain continues to grow. To avoid this hard blow for the United States, Donald Trump did everything possible to make Huawei bankrupt, inaugurating a protectionist technology policy. The new president, Joe Biden, wants to continue it, which will reduce China’s global projection and delay the rollout of 5G. The objective of a standard is to establish a canon that the scientific community, companies, governments and consumers globally can use (Piao, 2021).
Piao (2021) contends that innovation powers, such as the United States or China, do not selflessly set standards but instead seek financial gain and cybersecurity guarantees. China became aware of this and is now seeing how its policy of subsidies to strategic sectors is bearing fruit, anticipating the timid Western interventionism in technologies such as 5G. If the rivalry in the field of innovation grows even more, there is a risk that incompatible technologies will appear, to the detriment of the entire international society. However, if technological and economic interdependence is reduced, so can the tension between countries, which would control more of their own technological resources. Tech-nationalism has made China an alternative pole to the United States and increasingly independent from international value chains, and Beijing seems willing to go to the end with this policy.
Potential TikTok buyers are exploring four avenues to shape an acquisition of its Chinese parent ByteDance, including buying its U.S. operations without key software, after Beijing stalled a deal that could reach $ 30 billion, according to sources. Among the other options being considered is asking for China’s approval to give the TikTok algorithm to the buyer of the U.S. assets of the short video app, licensing the ByteDance algorithm, or seeking a transition period through which the deal is overseen by a U.S. security panel. ByteDance is urgently seeking a buyer for the TikTok assets so that it can finalize an agreement in mid-September and thus comply with President Donald Trump’s order to divest them, this after U.S. officials expressed concern about the security of citizens’ data. Americans handled by TikTok(Piao, 2021).
China announced new limitations on technology exports that could complicate the sale of the U.S. operations of the social network TikTok. The country governed by Xi Jinping updated the list of technologies subject to export restrictions to include computer systems, data processing, text analysis, content recommendation and voice recognition, according to the Wall Street Journal. This means that Chinese companies that want to export technologies mentioned in that list, which had not been updated since 2008, must obtain a government license. Among the items in the list are the products that offer personalized recommendations based on data analysis. This directly impacts Tik Tok, a social network whose algorithm offers users suggestions based on the information it collects about their use and behaviour. As most social networks and platforms of all kinds, data is used to make suggestions or show more relevant content for those who use them.
The list of restricted technology exports includes cryptography, chip design, lasers and other areas that impact the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries, among others. The standard seeks to regulate the export of technologies that it considers sensitive, information and developments that seek to protect security and sovereignty in China.This update in the restrictions is part of a geopolitical confrontation between China and the United States that has been going on for more than two years. Beijing updated its export control rules to restrict the sale of technology such as that used by TikTok to recommend videos to users, raising questions about whether it will agree on a deal to potential buyers such as Microsoft and Oracle. ByteDance and those interested in TikTok assets are now discussing ways to structure the deal. It is not clear which of the options will be chosen. As the days go by, the odds of a deal increase as the deadline for a U.S. ban to take effect approaches if a sale agreement has not been signed. TikTok filed a lawsuit in the wake of this ban.
In response to this, TikTok sued the United States government last week over that executive order, arguing that the ban prevents the company from having due process, as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.It is also mentioned that the company took extraordinary measures to address the concerns of the United States government, and in that sense, stored the data of American users outside China, in the United States and Singapore.
It should be remembered that all this arises in the midst of some companies such as Oracle, Microsoft and Wallmart having already expressed interest in acquiring Tik Tok’s operations in the United States. ByteDance is not the only company that the United States government has deemed a risk to the security of its country. WeChat , Tencent’s messaging app, faces the same ban as the TikTok app, on national security grounds. Using this same argument, the Trump administration limited the deployment of 5G by the Chinese company Huawei. And it has also alerted other governments in the world to refrain from using this type of technology, considering that it could lead to cyber espionage by the Chinese Government.
In turn, last year, the United States government-imposed restrictions on other Chinese companies that buy technology from that country: these users must acquire a license in order to carry out these transactions. Napoleon said that China was a sleeping giant who had to be allowed to continue his dream because when he woke up he would make the world tremble. China woke up in 1978 and the world did not tremble. But he does observe with growing concern that the Asian giant has opted for a rampant nationalism, with imperialist overtones.
China’s spectacular economic growth has made it the largest competitor to the United States, which for more than half a century had world economic hegemony, without any other country succeeding in overshadowing it. Now, the two giants face each other, and each one plays their cards: faced with Chinese controls on foreign investment while investing in third countries, the United States attacks with threats of prohibition and accusations of industrial espionage. The United States has achieved a triumph over China with the sale of a percentage of TikTok to Oracle and Walmart. But the (cold) trade war has only just begun (Piao, 2021).
The first manifestation of that nationalism is international trade. China has exported what it wanted where it wanted without problems. However, to protect its companies, it continues to limit imports against international rules. In addition, it continues to use the most-favored-nation clause. This clause allows a low-income country to maintain high tariffs while its businesses develop. The truth is that China is an upper-middle-income country, according to the World Bank. Therefore, it should no longer continue to restrict imports through high tariffs. However, it continues to do so, despite protests from the United States and the European Union. This inequality is one of the causes of the trade war with the U.S. and of the growing differences with the E.U. Thanks to this policy, China accumulates large trade surpluses year after year. The enormous volume of resources that they provide is used, first of all, to buy companies around the world, especially to take over their technology. It also does so to drive the expansion of its multinationals.
Control over foreign investments
To carry out these operations, China uses its multinationals, or its sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corporation . According to data from the Sovereign Wealth Funds 2019 report, this fund manages a volume of assets equivalent to 90% of Spanish GDP. Those resources come from China’s large trade surplus. The Chinese Government, on the other hand, does not allow foreign investors to freely acquire Chinese companies, especially technological ones. Nor does it allow many foreign companies to operate freely in its market. They can only do so through agreements with local companies to which they have to transfer technology and knowledge (Simon, 2021).
This asymmetry is generating a lot of friction with the United States and Europe. It was seen when, in 2016, the Chinese company Midea took over the German Kuka Robotics, a cutting-edge robotics company. China, on the other hand, tries to block this type of operation when its interests are affected. This is the case of the purchase of ARM Holdings by the U.S. Company NVidia. The microprocessors manufactured by ARM are in 95% of smart devices. Some microprocessors that China considers strategic and, therefore, tries to block the operation.
5G, teen and spy videos
Then there are the problems related to industrial espionage. Last July, the U.S. government closed the Chinese consulate in Houston, claiming that it was spying on companies that develop and use cutting-edge technologies. The United States has urged Western countries to veto Huawei in the development of its 5G networks, considering that its devices would facilitate the industrial espionage of the Chinese Government. That same argument was used to threaten technology with Chinese ByteDance prohibit operations TikTok U.S. In this case, it alleged national security issues, for access to personal data of millions of Americans. The condition imposed to lift the veto was that ByteDance sold part of the American subsidiary of TikTok to a North American company. In a last-minute agreement , the sale of 20% to Oracle and Walmart has been closed with what, apparently and for now, the conflict is resolved.
China wants to sell, but does not want to buy. And this economic nationalism does not like in the U.S. and the E.U. Added to this is what is happening in Hong Kong , or with the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, or with the construction of artificial islands in the China Sea for the Chinese to expand their territorial waters at the expense of their neighbors, or with the recent armed confrontation between Chinese and Indian troops in the Himalayas.The Chinese awakening is not shaking the world, but it is causing it a great deal of concern.The first change since 2008 in the lists of limitation or restriction of technology exports in China could mean that ByteDance, the developer of the short video social network TikTok, cannot sell its business in the United States – as required by Washington – without Beijing approval.
Review and suggestions
TikTok is another chapter in the escalation of tensions between China and the United States: on August 6, U.S. President Donald Trump banned any transaction or business with ByteDance from 45 days from that date, considering that TikTok is a threat to national security. Beijing’s restrictions on the export of artificial intelligence technologies, such as those used by TikTok, represent an obstacle to the purchase of the popular short-video app in the United States. The firm said it would strictly abide by China’s limitations on the export of its own inventive technology, before defining the fate of Tik Tok in the United States. This implies obtaining a permit from the State, since it uses some of the 23 restricted systems to go abroad, either through business or investment (Simon, 2021).
Specifically, the social network works with artificial intelligence and information programs with codes and rights of use issued from the Asian nation. The United States accuses it of collecting and sharing private data with the Chinese Government, but TikTok denies it and in August sued President Donald Trump and his Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, for violating their rights with the prohibition to operate in that country. The controversy also led to the resignation of Kevin Mayer as executive director of the application and also puts 10,000 jobs in the United States at risk. TikTok and also WeChat – the Chinese version of WhatsApp – are the new targets of an offensive by the White House against the Asian giant’s technology sector, which initially had among its attack targets the phone manufacturers Huawei and ZTE. Authorities and analysts in Beijing consider the maneuver a violation of the laws and warn about the damage to the confidence of foreign investors with plans to enter the United States since it shows a dangerous precedent of violation of the free and open market.
For the first time in the history of the Internet, a social network from China conquers Western users. TikTok has become a true experiment that divides the United States from China, but that also sneaks into wars and political campaigns. TikTok is on the lips of journalists, international analysts, politicians and businessmen from around the world. It could not be otherwise. For the first time in the history of what we call the Internet, a social network from China (in this case, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance) conquers the minds of users in the West. TikTok came to politics to stay, as a geopolitical and corporate conflict, but also as the expression of the new language of the hyper-connected masses.
This paper developed a theoretical framework as a method to understand the concept of TikTok and the exportation of Chinese culture. It is evident that TikTok has recently attracted the attention of national security analysts for being a mechanism used by terrorist groups to influence young people, due to its popularity. The great concern for the U.S., however, is “the privacy and security of the American people”, as stated in the letter sent by 24 congressmen to President Donald Trump in which they ask him to take decisive action against TikTok.in conclusion it is pertinent to say that The decision to block TikTok would be a way to attack a digital front in which users are experts in understanding algorithms and positioning conversation topics, and thus eliminate a tool that allows the organization of digital activism. Further young people have always looked to social media for a refuge where they can get away from political discussions and older people. That is why when politics began to intrude on digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, little by little they abandoned their accounts until they found a new social network. However, something different happens with TikTok: now it is young people who are getting into the political scene. Simply put, this is a war and K-Pop tiktokers and fans are more than prepared for battle.
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