Tiktok: The situation between China and the United States


In our rapidly evolving digital era, the very concept of geographical borders is being superseded by vast digital realms, where power dynamics play out on vast platforms that transcend physical nations. Flint’s (2016) definition of geopolitics highlights the ambition to command international territories for political leverage. With the proliferation of technology platforms, this geopolitical struggle has expanded to the digital arena. The rise of TikTok, originating outside the U.S., serves as a prime example of this shift, illustrating the tug-of-war between tech giants, nations, and global economic dominance. As we delve deeper, we’ll explore the intricate dance between these digital platforms and global power politics, exemplified by TikTok’s interactions with the U.S. and the broader implications for the world.

2.0 Geopolitics

Flint (2016) defines geopolitics as the effort to exercise control over international and global geographic entities in order to utilise these entities for the purpose of gaining political advantages. A wide range of actors, such as nations, businesses, and terrorist groups, compete strategically to gain political control over geographical areas; this is known as geopolitics (Flint, 2016). In the framework of international diplomatic relations, the previously described element takes the stage. The quest of power in the modern era of globalisation and digitization goes beyond traditional governmental actions to include the management and application of technological platforms. These platforms are now a major source of concern for geopolitics.

3.0 The Impact of TikTok and U.S. Concerns

TikTok’s rise as a non-American social media platform has posed serious problems for established Silicon Valley companies and sparked a geopolitical competition between the US and China (Chin-Rothmann, 2023). A kind of digital hegemony has been established by a number of American corporations that hold a sizable amount of market dominance over digital platforms. However, China’s rise to prominence in the world stage has presented a serious threat to the current hegemonic order, resulting in a condition of geopolitical instability (Chin-Rothmann, 2023).

The Congressional hearings in March 2023 were a culmination of the controversies pertaining to TikTok’s association with China, drug-related concerns, and the impact on adolescent mental health. During the congressional hearings, American lawmakers engaged in deliberations over the perceived risk of TikTok being exploited by the Chinese government for the purposes of influencing the United States and clandestinely acquiring confidential data from American individuals (Jiang, 2023). Nevertheless, it is argued by several sources that the available evidence is inadequate to substantiate these assertions, suggesting that the core of the disagreement may revolve in the United States’ apprehensions around the potential loss of global economic, political, and technical dominance (Jiang, 2023).

The United States government implemented a range of limitations on TikTok, which encompassed prohibiting its usage on government devices and issuing a potential nationwide ban. According to Jiang (2023), TikTok has been compelled to divest its business by the end of the initial quarter of 2023, under the threat of an absolute prohibition within the United States. However, the future of the app in the United States is currently questionable due to the firm conviction of committee members that TikTok might potentially be exploited by the Chinese government (Paul & Bhuiyan, 2023).

Figure 1: Does TikTok Really Pose a Risk to US National Security? Adapted from Redsecurity.info, n.d., https://th.bing.com/th/id/OIP.dYBgzecvdK5oooJQC6nlzgHaE8?pid=ImgDet&rs=1

4.0 The Geopolitical Tug-of-War between the U.S. and TikTok

The Trump and Biden administrations have demonstrated how geopolitics is heavily reflected on digital media. Their position on TikTok is primarily about the balance of geopolitical power, rather than issues with data security or personal privacy.

Figure 2. Donald Trump and TikTok logo. Adapted from “Title of Web Page,” by ContraInfo.Com, 2020, https://www.contrainfo.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/tik-tok-trump-china-vrs-usa.jpg.

4.1 TikTok under the Trump Administration

When the Trump administration first cited concerns about TikTok, they were primarily national security-related. They feared that the Chinese government could use TikTok to collect personal information on American citizens or to disseminate information that could influence the American public. Trump proposed that an American company acquire TikTok so that it could operate independently from its parent company, ByteDance (Matthews, 2023).

The Trump administration threatened to close down TikTok’s operations in the United States in September 2020 unless it was acquired by an American buyer. Oracle emerged as the tech partner for TikTok’s U.S. operations, and ByteDance consented to a deal that would transform TikTok into a global company with its headquarters in the U.S., under Oracle’s supervision (Kent & Byers, 2020). ByteDance would retain majority ownership but abdicate control over the app’s operations in the U.S., establishing a board whose members would require approval from the U.S. government (Kent & Byers, 2020).

Figure 3. Joe Biden and TikTok logo. Adapted from “TikTok hires PR firm with Biden ties as it faces scrutiny,” by Reclaim the Net, 2023, https://reclaimthenet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/biden-tiktok-pr-ties.jpg.

4.2 Biden Administration’s Position

While differing on a number of other policies, the Biden administration adopted a similar stance on TikTok. They, too, voiced concerns, highlighting the potential threats to national security posed by TikTok, and proceeded with Trump’s strategy, considering an American acquisition of TikTok (Allyn, 2023). This suggests that regardless of who is in control, there is a clear understanding of the geopolitical role of tech platforms and a commitment to protecting U.S. interests.

4.3 Blurred Lines Between Geopolitics and Economic Interests

Some argue that the United States’ concerns regarding TikTok are primarily economic. Other social media platforms are threatened by TikTok’s success, which could result in economic setbacks. However, the distinction between economics and geopolitics is unclear. When a nation’s tech company dominates the global market, it not only delivers economic benefits but also strengthens its international influence (Grey, 2022).

5.0 Is the Concern About TikTok Exaggerated or Valid?

TikTok, the first major social media platform to be founded outside of the United States, has emerged as a formidable rival to Silicon Valley titans such as Facebook and Instagram. It made its impression in 2019, and by the beginning of 2020, it had become the most downloaded app worldwide (Grey, 2021).

Since its ascent, TikTok has been subjected to intense scrutiny from governments around the world, with some questioning whether ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, can safeguard user data from potential access by the Chinese government. In contrast to its U.S. counterparts, TikTok does not manage user data significantly differently. There is scant evidence indicating that the platform poses a unique national security peril (Grey, 2021).

5.1 Counterpoint: The Threat of TikTok is Overblown

Although TikTok’s parent company is headquartered in China, its data-handling practises are comparable to those of its American competitors. Consequently, some observers believe the portrayal of TikTok as a severe threat to national security may be exaggerated. Instead, they contend that U.S. apprehensions may be motivated more by geopolitical competition with China than by genuine data security concerns (Grey, 2021).

5.2 Rebuttal: The Issue of Data Origin and Control

Despite the fact that TikTok may function similarly to its U.S. competitors, data control is a significant difference. Given the tensions in U.S.-China relations and China’s data laws, it is reasonable to fear that ByteDance could be compelled to reveal user data. Therefore, even if TikTok’s operational side mirrors other platforms, the political and legal backdrop still presents uncertainties and potential risks for the U.S. (Grey, 2021).


Traditional boundaries are being replaced by digital frontiers in the digital age, with platforms such as TikTok exemplifying the intersection of technology and geopolitics. TikTok, a non-U.S. social media giant, has been scrutinised by the U.S. in regards to data protection and probable ties to the Chinese government. Both the Trump and Biden administrations voiced concern and emphasised the importance of national security. The indistinct lines between economic interests and geopolitical strategies are undeniable, despite the fact that some view U.S. apprehensions as economic in nature due to TikTok’s success. The central debate revolves around data control in the context of global technological obstacles.


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Redsecurity.info. (n.d.). Does TikTok Really Pose a Risk to US National Security? [Photograph]. https://th.bing.com/th/id/OIP.dYBgzecvdK5oooJQC6nlzgHaE8?pid=ImgDet&rs=1

Reclaim the Net. (2023). TikTok hires PR firm with Biden ties as it faces scrutiny. https://reclaimthenet.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/biden-tiktok-pr-ties.jpg