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WeChat users not targeted by US ban, Trump administration says

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is set to release regulations by Sunday clarifying which WeChat transactions will be prohibited.

Pony Ma. Founder and CEO of Tencent.

As the September 20 deadline of a US WeChat ban looms, the Justice Department said on Wednesday that it won’t target individuals or groups who download or use WeChat to convey personal or business information.

The Justice Department said in a government court filing that such users won’t face criminal or civil liabilities, but noted that “use of the app for such communications could be directly or indirectly impaired through measures targeted at other transactions.” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is set to release regulations by Sunday clarifying what WeChat transactions will be prohibited, according to Reuters.

China digest

On August 6, President Donald Trump issued executive orders that called Tencent’s messaging app WeChat and ByteDance’s short video app TikTok “national security threats” and set September 20 as the deadline to block all “transactions” with parent companies of the two apps.

To fight against the orders, the US WeChat Users Alliance, a nonprofit group formed by several Chinese-American lawyers, has sued to stop the ban, claiming that the ban violates its US users’ freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, and other constitutional rights. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

According to research firm Sensor Tower, WeChat has been downloaded 19 million times in the US—a majority of users are overseas Chinese, but also include people and enterprises that do business with China. The app has more than 1.2 billion monthly active users (MAUs) worldwide.

On the other hand, ByteDance has been working against the clock on the sale of TikTok US. Oracle beat Microsoft in bidding and announced it will be a “trusted technology provider” for TikTok.

The deal that will see a partnership between Oracle and ByteDance is awaiting a response from the US government. Trump, on Wednesday, said he was not ready to approve the deal and expressed objection to ByteDance retaining a majority stake in TikTok US. As part of the deal, ByteDance would allow Oracle to review TikTok’s source code and software to ensure the Chinese government will not have access to the data, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources.