WASHINGTON (AFP) — President Trump said he is considering banning the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic, remarks China described Wednesday as "a malicious smear."
TikTok has been caught up in the escalating disputes between the United States and China, with the Chinese-owned firm accused of acting as a spying tool for Beijing — an allegation it denies.
"It's something we're looking at," Trump said during a TV interview on Tuesday when asked about a possible ban, according to Bloomberg News.
"It's a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they've done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful."
Trump did not provide any details, and told Gray Television that it was "one of many" options he was considering against China, Bloomberg added.
The United States is the country worst-hit by the virus, which Trump has blamed on China, which has rejected the allegation and has controlled the spread of Covid-19 far more effectively than the United States, which has suffered 3.1 million infections and 134,000 deaths — a death rate of 4.3%. Trump said, falsely, this week that the U.S. death rate to Covid-19 was less than 1%.
"The remarks made by some politicians in the U.S. are totally groundless and a malicious smear," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Wednesday when asked about Trump's comments on TikTok and China's role in the pandemic.
"The Chinese government has always asked Chinese businesses to conduct cooperation overseas on the basis of law and compliance," he told a regular press briefing.
Trump's comments came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States government was looking at banning Chinese apps — including TikTok — due to espionage concerns.
TikTok is estimated to have close to 1 billion users worldwide, but despite the huge popularity, it has long battled allegations that it is a spying tool for Beijing, as it is owned by a Chinese firm, ByteDance.
The firm has said repeatedly that it does not share user information with the Chinese government.
"TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S.," a TikTok spokesperson told Bloomberg.
"We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked."
TikTok has been caught up in another international spat too — it was among the dozens of Chinese apps banned by India due to national security, and/or political, concerns after a deadly border clash between its soldiers and Chinese troops.
On Monday, TikTok said it was pulling out of Hong Kong after a new national security law imposed by China gave authorities sweeping powers to police the internet.
© Agence France-Presse
Bloomberg News contributed to this story
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