Science & Technology

US ban on WeChat seen as a double-edged sword in China

By Jesús Centeno

Beijing, Aug 14 (efe-epa).- The United States’ incoming ban on the main Chinese social media network, WeChat, to many in the Asian giant means opening a box of unforeseeable consequences which could turn against the US president.

Donald Trump issued the executive order on Aug. 6, deeming the app a danger to national security.

Unless exceptions are specified or a specific interpretation is adopted, Trump’s executive order, which will take effect on Sep. 20, will prevent US citizens and businesses from making any transaction with Tencent, the developer of WeChat app.

The ban would imply that companies such as Apple would be forced to eliminate the popular application from its App Store, and other US companies that use the Chinese market to their advantage, such as Nike, Starbucks and KFC, would be in a bind, since many of their consumers use apps linked to WeChat to buy their products.

The Chinese will stop using iPhones if that happens, user Fang Xiansheng commented on Weibo, a popular social network similar to Twitter.

According to a survey recently published on Sina Weibo, 1.2 million out of 1.3 million Chinese polled would prefer to buy a new, national-brand phone if they cannot download WeChat to their iPhone.

“If they ban WeChat from the App Store, I would have to buy another phone. Maybe I would have an iPhone as a second phone,” the owner of a cafe in downtown Beijing told EFE.

WeChat’s use is so widespread that some businesses are surprised if the customer wants to pay in cash, and some only accept payment through apps.

“Only one percent of my clients pay in cash,” explained the businessman. “I use WeChat to chat, receive money from my clients, send the location of my business, operate my official account and post photos. It has made things much easier for businesses.”

If the Chinese one day find that WeChat is not available in mobile app stores, that would be the equivalent of a Westerner not being able to use WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

According to Carole Zhang, an employee in the public relations sector, surviving in China without WeChat is a “fantasy.”

“It is practically impossible today,” she said through an instant message sent with the application.

“Although in theory it is replaceable, many people have already gotten used to it. It is the most important tool to pay (with) and is essential to be in contact with other people,” she said.

In addition to being a chat app, WeChat encompasses such a high number of services that it has become an all-in-one essential.

“With WeChat you can access other applications. That is their secret. Besides paying electricity or recharging your mobile, there are things as curious as booking a cook or a physiotherapist to come to your house,” said Zhang.

And now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become one of the main platforms to access “health codes,” a system used in many cities mandatory to enter bars, restaurants, shops or even the subway.

The goal of Trump’s order is to protect Americans’ “personal and proprietary information” as his executive order says that “WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users,” which it claims ultimately allows the Communist Party of China access to personal information.

“But aren’t Instagram and Snapchat also banned in China?” asked Grace, a WeChat user in her “moments,” a function similar to Facebook’s “wall,” where you can post photos and comments and share them with people in your contact list.

China prohibits these US technology companies because they refuse the mentoring of the communist regime, which regulates what citizens can read, see or publish on the internet, although companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo! operate in the Asian giant, having accepted the conditions demanded by the government.

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