The move marks a major escalation by the administration in the US relationship with China at a time when the two countries are already clashing over issues ranging from the fate of Taiwan to export controls of microchips to China’s strengthening partnership with Russia.
The US National Security Council and the departments of Treasury and Justice didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The Wall Street Journal reported the Biden administration’s demand earlier Wednesday.
US officials have been airing longstanding national security concerns about TikTok. FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers in November that China’s government could use the app to control millions of users’ data or software, and its recommendation algorithm—which determines which videos users will see next—“could be used for influence operations if they so choose.”
“Under Chinese law, Chinese companies are required to essentially—and I’m going to shorthand here—basically do whatever the Chinese government wants them to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government,” Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee. “That’s plenty of reason by itself to be extremely concerned.”
TikTok Chief Executive Officer Shou Chew has been asked to testify before a House committee next week about the app’s data privacy and security practices, and the company’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.
A divestiture, which could result in a sale or initial public offering, is considered a last resort, to be pursued only if the company’s existing proposal with national security officials doesn’t get approved, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing non-public information.