What Trump’s TikTok deal learnt from China’s approach to apps

They may be geopolitical opponents, but Presidents Xi and Trump have done a lot for the other’s approval ratings. For nationalist, authoritarian presidents, having an external enemy is a must. But in forcing the Chinese internet company ByteDance to find an American partner in order to keep its short-video app TikTok alive in the US, Trump has gone further in advancing Xi’s agenda. Unwittingly, he has helped Xi export China’s vision of cyber-governance.

Since the start of Xi’s rule in 2013, China has tried to convince the world of the legitimacy of its way of governing cyberspace through censoring information and controlling foreign competitors’ access. In 2014, Xi’s newly appointed internet tsar brought together tech executives from around the world at the inaugural Wuzhen World Internet Conference.

Just before midnight on the final day, copies of a draft manifesto were slipped under the doors of attendees. The “Wuzhen Declaration” announced that the participants had agreed to “respect [the] Internet sovereignty of all countries”. Attendees were told to get back to the organisers with any changes by 8am. The next morning, after opposition from delegates, the declaration was killed.

So far, China’s advocacy for internet sovereignty has largely been a defensive move against…

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