Trump says TikTok must sell US arm by Sept 15, or close

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – President Donald Trump said TikTok will have to close in the US by Sept 15 – unless there’s a deal to sell the social network’s domestic operations to Microsoft or another US company.

Trump also said the federal government will have to be paid an amount equal to a percentage of the deal, “whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else or it was Chinese.”

Microsoft said that it was aiming to complete a deal for TikTok's operations in the US, as well as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Microsoft said that it was aiming to complete a deal for TikTok’s operations in the US, as well as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.PHOTO: AFP

“I don’t mind whether it’s Microsoft or someone else, a big company, a secure company, a very American company buys it,” Trump told reporters at the White House earlier on Monday (Aug 3). “It’ll close down on Sept 15 unless Microsoft or somebody else is able to buy it and work out a deal, an appropriate deal, so the Treasury of the United States gets a lot of money.”

Trump set off a furious scramble over the fate of the Chinese-owned app on Friday, when he said he would ban the company’s operations through an executive action on Saturday. The president then spoke with Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella over the weekend about his company’s efforts to purchase the viral video application, and the administration stopped short of announcing an immediate ban.

Microsoft said in a blog post that it was aiming to complete a deal for TikTok’s operations in the US, as well as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, no later than Sept 15. The White House had insisted upon that deadline. It could prove an uphill climb, with key details for the deal – including price – still not worked out.

“The United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we’re making it possible,” Trump said at an evening press briefing at the White House when asked about his call for the Treasury to get paid a share of a TikTok deal. “Whatever the number is it would come from the sale – which nobody else would be thinking out but me, but that’s the way I think – and I think its very fair,” he said, without specifying the authority through which a payment would be made.

Microsoft in its statement referred to providing “economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”

Trump questioned who would get rights to the company’s name if TikTok is owned by two different companies. “My personal opinion was they would be better off buying the whole thing rather than buying 30per cent of it,” Trump said. “I think buying 30 per cent is complicated.”

The White House has said it’s concerned that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, could be compelled to hand over American users’ data to Beijing or use the app to influence the 165 million Americans, and more than 2 billion users globally, who have downloaded it. And Trump has looked to ratchet up pressure on China ahead of November’s election, frustrated by slow implementation of the trade pact inked earlier this year and the spread of the coronavirus for which he blames China.

Trump said on Monday that TikTok “can’t be controlled for security reasons by China. Too big, too invasive, and it can’t be.”

Teenagers opposed to Trump have also used the app to disrupt the president’s campaign activities, including signing up for tickets to his first rally since the beginning of the pandemic, in Tulsa. Attendance at the late June event was far below expectations, and Trump hasn’t held another rally since.

In its blog post, Microsoft pledged to add more security, privacy and digital safety protections to the TikTok app and ensure that all private data of Americans be transferred back to the US and deleted from servers outside the country. The company also said it may invite other American investors to take minority stakes in the company.

“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns,” the company said. “It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review.”

Still, US lawmakers and administration officials have favoured shutting down the application altogether to send a message to China after Beijing restricted American companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google. White House adviser Peter Navarro on Monday said in a pair of interviews with CNN and Fox News that he wasn’t sure Microsoft was the right company to buy TikTok’s US operations, saying it had helped China construct its internet firewall.

“Should we trust any company that operates in China?” Navarro told Fox News.

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