Trump Says Microsoft Can Bid for TikTok

Technology|Trump Reverses Course on TikTok, Opening Door to Microsoft Bid

The president said he did not object to a potential acquisition of the Chinese-owned app, retreating from comments about banning the service.




TikTok Must Be Sold or Risk Being Shutdown, Trump Says

During a news conference on Monday, President Trump set a deadline for the social media app TikTok to be sold to a U.S. company or risk being shut down.

He called me to see whether or not — how I felt about it. And I said, “Look it can’t be controlled for security reasons by China — too big, too invasive, and it can’t be. And here’s the deal: I don’t mind if — whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else, a big company, a secure company, a very, very American company buy it. It’s probably easier to buy the whole thing then to by 30 percent of it. I think buying 30 percent is complicated. And I suggested that he can go ahead. He can try, we set a date — I set a date of around Sept. 15, at which point it’s going to be out of business in the United States. But if somebody, and whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else buys it, that’ll be interesting. If you buy it, whatever the price is that goes to whoever owns it, because I guess it’s China essentially. But more than anything else, I said a very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the treasury of the United States because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen.

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During a news conference on Monday, President Trump set a deadline for the social media app TikTok to be sold to a U.S. company or risk being shut down.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Ana SwansonMike Isaac

WASHINGTON — 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.

At the White House on Monday, Mr. Trump said that TikTok would shut down on Sept. 15 unless Microsoft or another company purchased it, and that he had suggested in a call this weekend that the chief executive of Microsoft “go ahead” with the acquisition.

“It can’t be controlled for security reasons by China,” Mr. Trump said of TikTok, adding that he did not mind if Microsoft or another very secure, “very American” company bought it instead.

Mr. Trump said such a purchase would funnel a large amount of money to China, and argued that the United States should receive money in return for letting the deal happen, without explaining how that would work.

“A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States, because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen,” Mr. Trump said.

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.

Microsoft declined to comment on Monday. TikTok said in a statement that it was “committed to continuing to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform as we build TikTok for the long term.”

“TikTok will be here for many years to come,” the statement added.


Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A special government panel that examines national security threats, 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 reported earlier by Reuters.

After 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 bought 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 that 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. TikTok has said 100 million Americans use it.

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, but 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.

Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Mike Isaac from San Francisco.

August 4, 2020
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