Today's D Brief: Trump bans 2 Chinese apps; Iran-Contra figure back to Iran; ‘Last hurdle’ for Afghan peace talks; Dire COVID prediction; And a bit more.
An unprecedented ban on two Chinese apps is set to begin in 45 days. President Donald Trump signed a pair of executive orders Thursday that forbid transactions by people in U.S. territories with Chinese social-media mobile applications TikTok and WeChat. TikTok officials said today that they are “shocked” by the orders, and they’ve “threatened to seek legal action in the U.S. if it didn’t get fair treatment from American authorities,” the Wall Street Journal reports. WeChat officials said today they’re reviewing the order and will comment more fully once they “get a full understanding” of what it involves. Indeed, Reuters reports U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has yet "to identify transactions covered by the order, which starts in 45 days," or on Sept. 20.
What are these apps? “TikTok, owned by Beijing-headquartered ByteDance Ltd., is popular for its short, catchy videos,” the Associated Press reports. “The company says it has 100 million users in the United States and hundreds of millions worldwide.” But the Journal reports “It isn’t profitable globally”; and WeChat's parent company, Tencent Holdings Ltd., "is likely to be a bigger concern" because it's "a much more-established company with a history of cooperating with the Beijing government in a variety of areas."
WeChat is "China’s bridge to the world," an app that allows "many Chinese living abroad to stay in touch with each other and people back home," the New York Times reports. Banning the app in the United States “would cut short millions of conversations between investors, business partners, family members and friends. The threat alone will likely start a new chapter in the deepening standoff between China and the United States over the future of technology.”
Here’s a list of some of Tencent’s largest investments, including the “Call of Duty Mobile” videogame. It also “owns Riot Games, the developer behind League of Legends, and [Tencent owns] a large share of Epic Games, which makes Fortnite,” the Times reports.
Trump invoked U.S. national security in signing the two orders, alleging in the case of TikTok that “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”
As for WeChat, the White House said it, too, “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users” and “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.” Further, the White House said in its justification statement to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “WeChat captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.”
China’s reax to the proposed TikTok ban: “The U.S. is using national security as an excuse and using state power to oppress non-American businesses. That’s just a hegemonic practice. China is firmly opposed to that,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin at a press conference in Beijing.
Not to be missed: “The executive order came hours after the Senate unanimously passed a bill prohibiting federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices,” the Journal notes. (Read more on that from Fox, here.) You may recall the House passed a similar TikTok ban in its defense spending bill, which Trump threatened to veto because it contains measures to rename military bases named for Confederate officers. Politico has more on that House measure on TikTok, here.
With the House and Senate now in lockstep on TikTok, Reuters reported “the prohibition is expected to soon become law in the United States.” More here.
From Defense One
Russian Disinformation Networks Detailed in New State Department Report // Patrick Tucker: Several English-language websites working together to push Kremlin talking points during the COVID outbreak caught the eye of U.S trackers.
Deepfakes Are Getting Better, Easier to Make, and Cheaper // Patrick Tucker: GitHub is becoming a destination site for make-your-own-deepfake software.
Top DOD Spox: No Conclusions Yet On Cause Of Beirut Explosion // Katie Bo Williams, Government Executive: Trump has claimed without evidence that the explosion might have been an “attack.”
Israel Needs Help Rebuilding Its Munitions Stockpile // Charles F. Wald and Michael Makovsky: The country’s ongoing campaign against Iran in Syria and Iraq has left it short of arms for a potential wider war.
The US Must Prepare to Respond to a Nuclear Disaster // Cham Dallas, The Conversation: As nuclear threats grow, the country needs a plan to coordinate, staff, and resource its response to the unthinkable.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1794, President George Washington led a militia to put down an anti-tax rebellion in Pennsylvania.
Elliott Abrams will now be America’s top envoy for Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move Thursday, which means the current U.S. envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, will soon leave his post after about 18 months on the job.
Abrams is no stranger to Iran policy; he was convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair. But Reuters reminds us that more recently he “was named U.S. special representative for Venezuela in January 2019 and has led a hawkish approach aimed at removing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.”
How’s that Venezuelan policy going? CRS updated its brief in June.
Iran’s foreign ministry is not impressed with these developments. Reuters has more on that predictable response, here.
The “last hurdle” to Afghan peace talks with the Taliban is being addressed today in Kabul. AP reports from the capital where the traditional council known as the Afghan Loya Jirga met “to decide the release of a final 400 Taliban” prisoners the group wants released before negotiations begin allegedly in earnest.
The White House really wants these prisoners released. State Secretary Mike Pompeo made that clear in a statement Thursday whose second sentence reads, “We understand that they will decide on the expeditious release of the remaining Taliban prisoners from their list, the last obstacle to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.”
We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular,” Pompeo said. “But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought by Afghans and Afghanistan’s friends: reduction of violence and direct talks resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.” Read the rest, here.
Meanwhile: China has also secured new security agreements with the Taliban in Afghanistan,” Paul Shinkman of U.S. News reported Thursday. “The new relationship is the culmination of a series of previously unreported moves, designed to help China exploit its economic investments in Afghanistan while also stifling outcry over its persecution of the Uighur minority Muslim population near China's western border with Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Continue reading, here.
Now for something completely different: “Russia warns it will see any incoming missile as nuclear,” AP reports from Moscow. That warning came from an article published Friday in the official military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star).
Why now? At least in part because the U.S. is working "to develop long-range non-nuclear weapons,” not unlike Russia and China's similar work in hypersonic missiles, e.g. AP writes "The argument reflects Russia’s longtime concerns about the development of weapons that could give Washington the capability to knock out key military assets and government facilities without resorting to atomic weapons." More here.
Twitter just added labels for state-run media accounts — including outlets like Russia’s RT, In the Now, Sputnik and TASS; as well as China’s Xinhua, People’s Daily, CGTN and China Daily.
This also includes spokespeople, foreign ministers, ambassadors, "and key diplomatic leaders... and entities who are the official voice of the state abroad," Twitter said in a statement Thursday.
If you wanna know more about each instance of this new label, Twitter said just clicking the new tag “directs people to an article explaining the policy and referring them to the Twitter Transparency Report for additional information.”
When it comes to regulating misinformation, Facebook gives preferential treatment to right-wing outlets like Breitbart and and conservative video production nonprofit Prager University, Buzzfeed News reported Thursday shortly after a senior engineer at Facebook was allegedly fired for digging into this very matter.
Bad news for the future: Univ. of Washington modelers expect 300,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths by Dec. The good-ish news? They say 70,000 of those can be avoided if more people wear masks. “The latest predictions from the university’s widely cited Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) comes as top White House infectious disease advisers warned that major U.S. cities could erupt as new coronavirus hot spots if officials there were not vigilant with counter-measures,” Reuters reports. More than 159,500 Americans have been killed from the virus so far.
Thursday’s toll: “At least 1,036 new coronavirus deaths and 57,128 new cases were reported in the United States on Aug. 6,” the New York Times reports. However, infections seem to be decreasing when compared with weekly averages from 14 days ago. More at the Times, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday.