Is TikTok’s parent company an agent of the Chinese state?

Enlarge / A stand of TikTok (Douyin) at The First International Artificial Products Expo Hangzhou on October 18, 2019, in Hangzhou, China. (credit: Long Wei | VCG | Getty Images)

Does the Chinese government have officials inside TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, pulling the strings? And does the storing of data from the popular social media app outside of China protect Americans?

These questions appear to dominate the current thinking in the US over whether to ban TikTok if its owner, Chinese technology giant ByteDance, refuses to sell the platform.

But in my opinion—forged through 40 years as a scholar of China, its political economy, and business—both questions obscure a more interesting point. What’s more, they suggest a crucial misunderstanding of the relationship between state and private enterprise in China.

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