Before TikTok CEO Shou Zi Wei testifies before Congress next week, a group of Washington legislators and Silicon Valley executives, including investor Peter Thiel, are secretly organizing against China's engagement in the American digital sector.
It is planned that they will meet for a private dinner on Wednesday evening in order to discuss China, national security, and the intensifying competition between the American and Chinese tech sectors. There will be a hearing scheduled for Mr. Chew on the following day and he is expected to testify.
Opposition to TikTok is growing. TikTok has been prohibited on devices that belong to the government in the United States and numerous other Western nations. The Chinese owners of TikTok have been ordered by the Biden administration to sell their shares in the video-sharing app or risk a potential ban in the United States, according to a Wednesday report by Trade Algo.
In an interview with Trade Algo, Mr. Chew asserted that cutting off TikTok's ties to its Chinese owners wouldn't provide any more security than the protections the company has already put forward.
Jacob Helberg, a former Google policy consultant and the newest member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional study and advisory panel, is leading the charge to establish the bipartisan, bicoastal alliance of China hawks. Additionally, Mr. Helberg holds the positions of senior adviser and adjunct senior fellow at the Stanford University Center on Geopolitics and Technology, which conducts research on international competition, and at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that focuses on national security issues. Meeting with members of Congress every two weeks in order to push them to outlaw TikTok has been one of Mr. Helberg's top goals.
The group, which goes by the name of the Hill & Valley Forum, intends to address its worries regarding China at the upcoming dinner, which is anticipated to bring roughly 200 guests. Venture capital firm 137 Ventures and Founders Fund, as well as Mr. Helberg, covered the cost of the meal.
Many financiers, executives, and entrepreneurs are anticipated to speak at the event, including Mr. Thiel, the chairman of Founders Fund and an early backer of Facebook, as well as fellow tech investor Vinod Khosla and a number of other financiers.
Mr. Helberg stated, "We're preparing Congress for this testimony." He has been promoting lines of inquiry regarding TikTok, as have other diners. He claimed that in his opinion, TikTok represents "the most effective espionage campaign China has ever launched against the United States."
A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment on the group but insisted that TikTok has never given Beijing access to user data from American users. She stated, "We have never been asked to provide U.S. user data with the Chinese government, and we wouldn't if asked.
The Biden administration's request that TikTok's Chinese owners sell their shares is its strongest demand to date for the app. TikTok is forbidden on equipment provided by the federal government, the European Commission, Canada, Belgium, and more than 30 U.S. states. Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stated in early March that TikTok "screams out with national security implications."
Legislation targeting TikTok or foreign technology, in general, has been introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI). The individuals who have seen the RSVP list also claim that they all intend to attend the event.
Messrs. Warner and Rubio's representatives declined to comment.
"The younger generation enjoys TikTok, but I don't believe they understand the risks. The surveillance blimp in your phone is what I refer to as," Mr. McCaul remarked. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Committee received Mr. Helberg's nomination from him.
American authorities have expressed fear that the Chinese government would order ByteDance Ltd., a Beijing-based company that owns TikTok, to spy on or choose which videos American viewers see. In an effort to allay lawmakers' fears, TikTok officials have stated that they wouldn't cave into such requests and have been promoting a plan to restructure the company's U.S. operations into a new organization that would be responsible for protecting the app.
Oracle Corp. and other third-party monitors would examine the code pertaining to how TikTok chooses which videos to offer to users, as well as access to users' data, as part of TikTok's strategy.
Moreover, TikTok has been attempting to plan its own show of solidarity. The app invited developers to attend the U.S. with business executives. Capitol in the coming month. The Information previously reported on TikTok's approach to creators.
In an effort to demonstrate to industry observers that the firm plans to be proactive about safety precautions on its app, TikTok has imposed a 60-minute screen-time limit for users under the age of 18. By supplying a password, users can get around the restriction.
The difficulties TikTok executives confront in trying to persuade policymakers that their service is secure for American users are highlighted by this increasing partnership between U.S. tech and government figures.
For Mr. Helberg to consider any potential threat from the app eliminated, he stated that TikTok's Chinese shareholders would need to sell their shares and the company would need to close its engineering operations in China.
The fundamental conviction that China poses one of the greatest political and geopolitical challenges to American democracy, according to Mr. Helberg, unites practically everyone attending this luncheon.
Some tech firms have also grown dissatisfied with what they perceive to be an imbalance in Chinese firms' access to American consumers that U.S. firms haven't been able to duplicate in China. Although users in China can access them using techniques that mask their whereabouts, the majority of the top American tech services, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, are not available there.
China has often stated that it is improving the environment for foreign businesses.
"Tech companies are suddenly realizing that if you feel the U.S. plays a constructive role in the globe, that it's our obligation to help," said Kevin Weil, a former vice president at Facebook who now is head of product and sales at Earth-imaging company Planet. Mr. Weil declares that he'll be at the dinner.
The second activity for the group is the dinner set for the following week. When contacted for comment, Mr. Thiel, who is set to speak there, remained silent.
In order for the United States to beat China in the tech race, Mr. Gallagher argued that Mr. Helberg's attempts to unite diverse groups, including those in the tech industry and policymakers, were essential.
Many of Mr. Helberg's opinions on China were formed in 2016 while he was working at Google, where he oversaw the company's initiatives to thwart outside intervention on its platforms. The most overt foreign campaigns he was aware of at the time were those of China and Russia, but he added that Russia's attempts to create turmoil in the U.S. prior to the 2016 presidential election rapidly followed suit.
Keith Rabois, his husband, is a general partner at Founders Fund. Mr. Helberg's activities in China, according to a spokesman, are self-funded.
At the offices of Capitol Hill lawmakers, Mr. Helberg's message resounded when he penned a book about his time at Google and his predictions of an impending cyberwar between the United States and China. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) accepted a copy of the book from Mr. McCaul and exhibited it in his office before appointing Mr. Helberg to the commission. From that point on, Mr. Helberg maintained his relationships with parliamentarians.
Mr. Helberg began assembling the group of those worried about China and national security at the beginning of last summer. He texted two venture capitalist pals about the elected people he had met and advised them to try to arrange for them to meet with their tech industry contacts.
The venture capitalist Mr. Khosla, who is scheduled to speak at the event, said the world order will be altered by a "techno-economic" conflict with China.
"The race for technical superiority will be quite open in twenty years. Whoever wins this contest will gain political and consequently economic dominance," according to Mr. Khosla. "This goes well beyond national security,"
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