President Trump gave the go-ahead for Microsoft to pursue an acquisition of TikTok, in his first public comments about the popular Chinese-owned video app after he had threatened to ban it from the United States entirely.
Speaking at the White House on Monday, Mr. Trump said that TikTok would shut down on Sept. 15 unless Microsoft or another company purchased it. He added that the U.S. Treasury Department would need to receive a lot of money in return for the deal, without explaining how that would work.
His comments indicated at least a temporary reprieve for TikTok, which has come under scrutiny in Washington for its Chinese ownership. Trump administration officials and lawmakers of both parties have argued that the app, which is known for dance videos and other fun viral clips, could pose a national security threat by potentially giving the Chinese government access to vast quantities of American user data.
Executives at TikTok have insisted that it does not take direction from ByteDance, its parent company in Beijing.
ImageThe Chinese company Bytedance owns TikTok, the short-form video app.
The Chinese company Bytedance owns TikTok, the short-form video app.Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock
A special government panel that examines national security threats, called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, has extended its deadline by 45 days to allow Microsoft to explore the purchase, a person familiar with the matter said. The 45-day extension was first reported by Reuters.
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Following months of deliberations, that panel had recommended that TikTok sell its assets to an American company to curtail China’s potential influence in the United States, and Microsoft had stepped forward as a potential buyer.
But several China hawks in the Trump administration, including the White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, argued against the sale, seeing the moment as an opportunity to take more sweeping action to ban TikTok and other Chinese-run internet services like Tencent’s WeChat.
On Monday, Mr. Navarro doubled down on that approach, suggesting that Microsoft should be required to divest any business it had in China if it were to buy TikTok. In an interview with CNN, Mr. Navarro accused Microsoft of enabling Chinese censorship and surveillance through products like Skype and its search engine Bing.
“This is not a white-hat company,” he said.
Mr. Trump appeared to take Mr. Navarro’s side on Friday, saying he did not favor a sale of TikTok and that he instead planned to ban the app entirely. But after a series of calls, including from Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, Mr. Trump appeared to change his mind.
Several of Mr. Trump’s aides had warned that a ban could prompt an intense legal battle, as well as hurt the president’s popularity with younger Americans.
Although TikTok acquired something of an anti-Trump reputation in June, after some of its users boasted that they had registered for thousands of tickets to Mr. Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., to embarrass the campaign, pro-Trump content on the app is widespread. Some of its most popular users are conservatives, and the hashtag #conservative has 1.9 billion views.
In a blog post on Sunday, Microsoft said it would “move quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks,” and conclude the talks no later than Sept. 15.
Microsoft said the talks could result in its purchase of TikTok’s service in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, though it cautioned that the discussions were still “preliminary.” The company also said any deal would include transferring any and all user information to servers in the United States. Microsoft may also bring on other outside minority investors if a deal moves forward.