What China’s new export rules mean for TikTok’s US sale

Last week Chinese regulators cast doubt over ByteDance’s planned sale of the US operations of its short-video subsidiary TikTok, by expanding the country’s list of controlled exports to include the algorithms that power the viral video app.

Unlike the US, China has a small and very rarely used set of export controls, which have so far been most notably deployed on the rare earth metals found in consumer electronics such as smartphones.

As a result, there is little precedent to understand how the government might use its new list to influence deals by ByteDance and other tech companies. Is China serious about blocking a TikTok sale — or just saving face after a series of hawkish moves by the US?

Here is what China-based experts know about the new measures, and what they signal politically.

What do the new export rules do?

Last Friday, China’s Ministry of Commerce updated its list of “forbidden and restricted technology exports” to include, among many other things, “personalised information recommendation services based on data analysis”.

TikTok’s addictive success has partly resulted from such recommendation algorithms, which push new videos to users based on their previous viewing history.

The export of such services is restricted, not banned, which means that companies like…

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