Trump bars eight Chinese apps
US President Donald Trump has signed an executive order banning transactions with eight Chinese software applications, including Ant Group's Alipay mobile payment app, the White House says.
The move escalates tensions with Beijing two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
A senior Trump administration official told Reuters the move is aimed at curbing the threat to Americans posed by Chinese software applications, which have large user bases and access to sensitive data.
China responded on Wednesday, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying the country would "take necessary measures to safeguard the legitimate rights of companies".
The order argues that the United States must take "aggressive action" against developers of Chinese software applications to protect national security.
It tasks the Commerce Department with defining which transactions will be banned under the directive within 45 days and targets Tencent Holdings Ltd's QQ Wallet and WeChat Pay as well.
The order also names CamScanner, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate which is published by Alibaba Group subsidiary UCWeb, and Beijing Kingsoft Office Software's WPS Office.
Kingsoft said in a statement published by Chinese state media that it did not expect Trump's order to substantially impact the company's business in the short term.
"By accessing personal electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, Chinese connected software applications can access and capture vast swaths of information from users, including sensitive personally identifiable information and private information," the executive order states.
Such data collection "would permit China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, and build dossiers of personal information," the document adds.
The order aims to cement Trump's tough-on-China legacy before the January 20 inauguration of Biden, a Democrat, who has said little about how he plans to address specific tech threats from China.
Biden could, however, revoke the order on the first day of his presidency, though his transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
The order will likely ratchet up tensions further between Washington and Beijing, which have been locked in a bitter dispute over the origins of the coronavirus and a Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong.
Despite the 45-day time line laid out by the order, the Commerce Department plans to act before January 20 to identify prohibited transactions, another US official told Reuters.
The directive mirrors Trump executive orders signed in August directing Commerce to block some US transactions with WeChat and the Chinese-owned video app TikTok.
Had those orders gone into effect, they would have effectively banned the Chinese apps' use in the United States and barred Apple and Google's app stores from offering them for download for new users.
The restrictions, however, were blocked by courts mainly on freedom of speech grounds.
Ant is China's dominant mobile payments company, offering loans, payments, insurance and asset management services via mobile apps.
It is 33 per cent owned by Alibaba and controlled by Alibaba founder Jack Ma, but is currently unavailable for American users.
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