Banning TikTok Will Not Make Americans Safer

by Tommy Grant

This article was originally published by Connor O’Keeffe at The Mises Institute. 

On Wednesday, the House is set to vote on a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) that would ban or force the sale of the social video-sharing app TikTok. The bill is based on concerns that the Chinese Communist Party effectively controls ByteDance, the app’s parent company. Last Friday, President Joe Biden endorsed the legislation and promised to sign it into law if Congress passes it.

The vote comes nearly a year after the RESTRICT Act, the last major congressional attempt to ban TikTok, fell apart. While it was framed as a TikTok ban, a closer look at the RESTRICT Act revealed that the bill would grant the executive branch extensive powers to monitor and suppress many legitimate activities that Americans conduct online.

At the time, I wrote an article laying out how the RESTRICT Act’s “expansive and unspecific” language made the bill a threat to the property rights of American citizens. While the language of Representative Gallagher’s bill is more precise, it still gives the government room to expand far beyond TikTok and its parent company ByteDance. So many of the threats to Americans’ rights that I detailed last year remain.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that granting the United States government more power to control what information Americans are allowed to see online is not something to be concerned about. Will this bill actually make Americans safer? After all, wouldn’t a small additional rights infringement on a population whose rights are already heavily infringed upon be worth it if it fends off a much larger threat to the rights of Americans from a foreign adversary?

Perhaps. But that is certainly not an accurate characterization of the current situation.

There is no evidence that the Chinese government has any intention or desire to invade and conquer territory claimed by the United States. No serious geopolitical analyst makes this claim. And even when the most fervent China hawks cite China’s “imperial ambitions,” they refer not to some imminent military threat to the US but to the ongoing struggle for control of China’s near abroad.

For decades, the bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, DC, have decided that they are the ones who ought to control the waters surrounding the Chinese mainland.

As I explained last fall, the Chinese Communist Party relies on a growing economy to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of the 1.4 billion people living under its autocratic regime, and the modern Chinese economy is almost entirely reliant on maritime trade. However, because China’s coast is surrounded by other island nations, Chinese vessels need to navigate through and around waters claimed by other governments to access the world’s oceans.

So, any competing territorial claims off China’s coast will already be a source of tremendous anxiety for the Chinese government. On top of that, however, Washington has decided to maintain a heavy naval presence in the region, in addition to hundreds of heavily armed US bases. The US government has also made numerous weapons deals and defense agreements with nearby island nations, including Taiwan.

The struggle for political control over Taiwan is widely considered the top flash point in the region today. The dynamic can best be understood as a stalemate in an almost century-old Chinese civil war. As Brad Pearce stated in an article last year, Washington holds a bizarre official position on the conflict:

Since Richard Nixon adopted the “One China” policy 50 years ago, U.S.-China policy has been based on an inherent contradiction. The United States views the People’s Republic of China as the sole government of China, including Taiwan. However, it has given what amounts to a security guarantee to the so-called “Republic of China,” the government of Taiwan, which itself claims all of China.

Beyond the security guarantee, Washington has armed the Taiwanese military and stationed American troops on the island. Last month, it was revealed that the US has deployed military advisers—likely Green Berets—to the Kinmen islands. While controlled by Taiwan, these islands are located right off the coast of mainland China. The US government clearly sees itself as a main combatant if this stalemated Chinese civil war were to again turn hot.

The American political establishment and their friends and donors in the weapons industry get plenty out of this militarization of China’s near abroad. The rest of us, who are forced to fund all this, gain nothing but unnecessary risk.

A hot war over Taiwan would be devastating for all involved. It would likely be impossible for the US to win outright, and it will almost certainly not stay contained in the area surrounding Taiwan. War games trying to predict how the war would play out frequently accelerate to the point of intercontinental missile strikes, sometimes nuclear, on cities in the western United States.

That is the danger Americans face from this conflict with China. It is not in the interest of the American people to continue this aggressive posturing when the stakes are this high, as the very presence of American troops has the potential to kick off the fighting. Just look, for instance, at the way John Bolton reacted to the news that China might someday try to build a military training facility in Cuba. There’s no reason to believe that Chinese hardliners are any different.

Banning or forcing the sale of TikTok is, at best, a distraction. If the safety of the American people is truly the goal, then Washington must urgently rein in its provocative and unnecessary posturing on and around China’s coast.

Read the full article here

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