"We convinced many countries, and I did this myself for the most part, not to use Huawei, because we think it's an unsafe security risk," Trump said at a White House press conference on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, the UK government said it was reversing a decision to allow Huawei to build parts of its new 5G mobile network. Under the announcement, any existing 5G gear from Huawei must be ripped out — virtually eliminating the company from a major western market.
The UK reversal is at least a symbolic victory for a White House that has at times struggled to persuade allies of the alleged security risks of using Chinese technology. And now, it may embolden Trump as he weighs whether to clamp down on TikTok, an app some policymakers allege is a national security threat, even as experts say there is little concrete evidence. (A Trump push to ban TikTok would have some precedent; earlier this month, India said it would ban the app, among others, after a bloody border clash involving Indian and Chinese forces.)
Huawei and TikTok operate in very different lines of business — one is a telecom company that deals with a complicated global supply chain and the other is a social app beloved by teens. But the telecom equipment maker's experience with the Trump administration hints at what may be in store for the social media app — ranging from public criticism by government officials and greater regulatory scrutiny to legislation seeking to lock it out of the US market, where consumers have downloaded TikTok more than 165 million times.
In a statement, TikTok's head of US public policy, Michael Beckerman, said there is a lot of "misinformation about TikTok right now." The company "stores US user data in Virginia, with backup in Singapore, and we work to minimize access across regions," he said. "We welcome conversations with lawmakers who want to understand our company,"
TikTok has taken pains to distance itself from China by pointing to its recently hired American CEO and arguing that it stores US user data on US-based servers. It has also announced possible changes to its corporate structure that could further emphasize its independence from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance.
Huawei didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but it has consistently denied that it poses a spying risk. The company has insisted that it would challenge any attempts by the Chinese government to acquire its customers' data.
The US has taken numerous steps to freeze Huawei out of the American market. On Wednesday, the State Department said it was imposing visa restrictions on employees of some Chinese technology companies, including Huawei. Last year, the US government placed Huawei on a Commerce Department watchlist, making it impossible for US companies to do business with Huawei without a waiver. It has restricted federal agencies from using Huawei gear, and the Federal Communications Commission has forbidden US wireless carriers from buying Huawei products or services using agency-related f