US president Donald Trump moved to ban transactions with Chinese payment applications including Alipay, WeChat Pay and Tencent’s QQ Wallet on Tuesday, stoking tensions with China with just days remaining in his presidency.
The executive order is the latest in a series of late moves by the Trump administration to crack down on Beijing before Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20.
Mr Trump said in a message to Congress explaining the order that the “pace and pervasiveness” of the spread of Chinese software apps “continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy” of the US.
“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,” he said.
The US president said the ban would apply to Alipay, CamScanner, QQ Wallet, SHAREit, Tencent QQ, VMate, WeChat Pay, and WPS Office, and would be administered by the commerce secretary.
WeChat had already been targeted in a previous executive order concerning Chinese social media apps, which has yet to take effect because of court challenges. In August, Mr Trump issued sanctions against We Chat and TikTok, but a California judge subsequently blocked the WeChat order while judges in Washington DC and Pennsylvania halted the TikTok ban.
Mr Trump said the commerce secretary should evaluate Chinese software apps that “may pose an unacceptable risk” to the US and work with and intelligence officials on “recommendations to prevent the sale or transfer of United States user data to, or access of such data by, foreign adversaries”.
Alipay — Ant Financial’s payments app — has deals with merchants in the US such as Walgreens and claims to work with more than 250 overseas partners primarily to support cross-border payments for Chinese tourists travelling overseas. However, the bulk of its roughly 1bn users are in China. Hong Kong-listed shares in Alibaba were up 3.2 per cent on Wednesday afternoon while Tencent was up 1.9 per cent.
Tencent and Ant declined to comment on the ban on Wednesday.
The crackdown on Chinese software apps came as the Trump administration moved to enforce a ban on US investment in Chinese companies with suspected military ties, which was announced last year.
In response to the order, the New York Stock Exchange initially said it would delist China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom, China’s three largest state-run telecom groups, from the exchange, but abruptly reversed course this week, sowing confusion in Washington and on Wall Street.
The about-face also prompted an intervention by Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, who complained about the reversal in a call to Stacey Cunningham, NYSE president, on Tuesday.
A Treasury update last month compounded the confusion, indicating that subsidiaries of the Chinese groups named in an earlier executive order would be affected by the mandate once the department published a list of those affected. The Treasury has not yet published that list, resulting in varied responses from index providers and exchanges seeking to comply with the order.
Some China hawks in Washington bristled in response to the NYSE’s turnround and piled pressure on Mr Mnuchin. “If it is true that someone at @USTreasury advised @NYSE to reverse the decision to delist these Chinese companies it was an outrageous effort to undermine @POTUS Executive Order,” Marco Rubio, the Republican Florida senator, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “The days of Wall Street & #China benefiting at the expense of American workers & industry has to end.”
The confusion over the delistings also came amid heightened focus on the Trump administration’s ties to the NYSE. On Monday night, Mr Trump praised Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman of the NYSE and husband of Kelly Loeffler, Republican senator, at a campaign rally for her re-election in Georgia.
“Kelly’s husband is one of the great entrepreneurs in our country. He’s respected by everybody. He’s a tough guy, but he is a sweetheart, and he loves your state,” Mr Trump said.
The NYSE declined to comment.
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