On September 18, 2020, the US Commerce Department announced the prohibited transactions (which would be effective as of September 20, subject to a court-ordered suspension discussed below) aimed at limiting the use of WeChat (and possibly also TikTok) within the United States. These prohibitions may have some effect outside the United States as well. Technology companies, Internet infrastructure companies, financial institutions, and other companies that support these apps should take particular note since the prohibitions are directed at business-to- business engagement, as opposed to individual users of these apps. However, users should consider that their ability to continue to use WeChat in particular within the United States may become severely restricted, and perhaps eventually eliminated. The Commerce Department’s September 18 announcement explains that these prohibitions are intended to “protect users in the U.S. by eliminating access to these applications and significantly reducing their functionality.”
As background, on August 6, President Trump issued Executive Orders 13942 and 13943, directing the Secretary of Commerce to identify, within 45 days, specific types of prohibited transactions related to ByteDance Ltd. (including TikTok) and WeChat. See our earlier blog post for more detail. In two Notifications issued on September 18 (the WeChat notice is available here, and the ByteDance / TikTok notice is here), the Commerce Department identified a broad set of business-to-business transactions involving WeChat and ByteDance / TikTok that would be prohibited under US law.
Importantly, the timing for these prohibitions is different for each of the two Notifications.
- The WeChat prohibitions were to take effect on September 20. However, they were temporarily blocked by a preliminary injunction issued by a US federal magistrate judge on September 19. The outcome of this litigation remains uncertain.
- The limited ByteDance / TikTok prohibitions that were slated to take effect on September 20 were suspended by the Commerce Department until September 27 at 11:59 p.m. eastern. In a press release issued after the Notifications themselves, the Commerce Department stated that this delay was provided “in light of recent positive developments . . . at the direction of President Trump.” The effective date of most of the ByteDance / TikTok prohibitions as stated in the Notification is not until November 12, 2020, which would align with the 90-day period for divestment of TikTok in the United States that was ordered by the President on August 14. A proposed divestment or other type of partnership to operate TikTok within the United States is currently under review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). President Trump stated that he has given the most recent proposed deal for TikTok his “blessing,” but the CFIUS process is not yet complete; nor has the deal closed. Commerce’s press release states that “the President has provided until November 12 for the national security concerns posed by TikTok to be resolved. If they are, the prohibitions in this order may be lifted.” The Chinese government has also indicated that any such deal would be subject to its approval as well.