Q&A: TikTok Owner Is Essentially ‘Subsidiary’ of China’s Communist Party, US Lawmaker Says  

washington — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill March 13 that, if enacted into law, would give ByteDance, the Chinese owner of the TikTok social media app, 180 days to divest its U.S. assets or face a ban over concerns about national security, including Beijing’s ability to access Americans’ private information through the company

ByteDance denies it would provide such private data to the Chinese government, despite reports indicating such information could be at risk.

VOA sat down on the day the bill passed with Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on state, foreign operations and related programs, and co-chair of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, to hear why he supported the bill and why he’s calling for faster military support for Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as a breakaway province that must one day reunite with the mainland, by force if necessary.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of Congress’ enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act, which outlines nondiplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in the wake of formal U.S. recognition of Beijing as the government of China. The act states that the U.S. must provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: The House just passed a bill that would require ByteDance to divest TikTok. Did you support this bill?

U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart: I absolutely did. … It has strong bipartisan support. And there’s also been a lot of misinformation about it. People say that it’s to ban TikTok. No, it’s basically saying you have to divest from, in essence, being controlled by the Communist Party of China.

We would have never allowed, during the Soviet empire, the Soviet Union to control, to own, one of the major networks in the United States – ABC, NBC, CBS. Why? Because it’s a threat to national security. In this case, it’s even more dramatic because they [the Chinese] have access not only to getting into people’s homes, but to actually get information from the American people. And they’ve been pretty good and very aggressive at doing that. And so TikTok needs to be divested. That’s the least that we should be requiring, and if so, then they can continue to function. But we cannot allow for this to function, getting information from the American people to an entity that is in essence a subsidiary of the Communist Party of China.

VOA: It is a consensus in Washington that if China invaded Taiwan, it would trigger a domino effect that could be catastrophic for the U.S. What are the most important actions the U.S. can take right now to prevent that from happening?

Diaz-Balart: The key is to avoid China doing something stupid, to avoid China being irresponsible in trying to intervene militarily with Taiwan. … And the way to do that is to make sure that Taiwan has the weaponry, everything it needs, so that China understands that trying to invade Taiwan is a very, very bad proposition.

VOA: The Biden administration last month approved a package of military equipment sales to Taiwan. Some analysts are worried this may not be sufficient to counter China’s aggression in the region. Do you think military sales to Taiwan are sufficient?

Diaz-Balart: I think military sales to Taiwan have to be done quicker. We have to be more aggressive … not only, obviously, directly, to help send the weaponry, sell the weaponry, and send the weaponry to Taiwan, but we also have to keep up with our defense spending domestically to keep the military industrial base alive and, well, with what we’ve seen, for example, going on Ukraine, [that] has demonstrated that we’re not where we need to be as far as our industrial base.

VOA: You visited Taiwan in January right after its election. What is your key takeaway from that trip?

Diaz-Balart: Taiwan is a very vigorous democracy. The press is very aggressive. That’s a good thing. … We made a point of obviously visiting with the president and the vice president-elect, also with the outgoing president. But we also met with the leadership of the other two parties, because it’s important to demonstrate that we cherish and that we love democracy and freedom. Taiwan is a beacon of freedom and democracy.

VOA: It is the bipartisan consensus to see China as one of the biggest geopolitical challenges for the U.S. in the coming decades. What should be the top priority the U.S. should tackle right now with China?


Diaz-Balart: We have to be a little bit more serious about understanding that China is a very dangerous player in the world. It is the largest fascist dictatorship on the planet, and the wealthiest fascist dictatorship on the planet. It has very ambitious goals. It has, you know, we see the cyberattacks that have taken place in this country that we know have come from Communist China. We also know that there have been thousands upon thousands of men, military-age males, coming from China across the southern border, which should frankly frighten all of us. …

That means utilizing every diplomatic and economic tool at our disposal to treat China as what it is: a growing threat to the United States and to the world. And you see, for example, in the region, how countries are very concerned about China’s aggressiveness, whether it’s the Philippines or India or even Vietnam. So there’s a growing concern in the world about this aggressive attitude of China. But we need to take real steps to confront that in a way to avoid war.

VOA: You’re also the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on state, foreign operations and related programs. What kind of role would you like to see U.S. international broadcasting agencies like Voice of America play in countering Chinese Communist Party propaganda?

Diaz-Balart: The Voice of America has been a key player for decades in that cause of freedom and in getting real news, real information to people who don’t have access to it because of censorship. And so I’ve always been a strong supporter of it because of that. I think information is key. The first thing that happens in a dictatorship is that they close the ability for people to get real information, to get real news. And if we can be helpful to have people around the world get real information, real news, not only about what happens around the world but also what even happens in their own country, I think that is a service to humanity.

Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.

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