Is TikTok Even Really Chinese?

By: Ben Campbell | Published: Mar 27, 2024

TikTok remains a hot topic in the news after the U.S. passed a bill that could ultimately ban the popular video app if its Chinese owners refuse to sell.

But a frequent question postulated by the app’s CEO is whether TikTok should really be seen as Chinese. The answer could be no, and here’s why. 

House of Representatives Move to Ban TikTok

In mid-March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that may ban the video app TikTok nationwide unless its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sells the platform.

A bird's eye view of the US Senate in session

Source: Wikimedia

According to The Guardian, the House vote was 352 to 65, with only 15 Republicans voting against the bill. 


Why the U.S. Wants to Ban TikTok

In recent years, American lawmakers and politicians have argued that the social media platform poses a severe national security risk. 

An image showing the popular video-sharing app TikTok’s logo

Source: Wikimedia

Those in favor of the bill claim the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could force TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to hand over all the data it has on its American users. 

Five Months to Sell

If the ban goes through, Americans will be prohibited from downloading TikTok from any U.S. app store.

A photograph of a smartphone screen that shows the TikTok app

Source: Wikimedia

However, the bill has given Beijing-based ByteDance a five-month window to sell the Chinese app to Western investors, per CNN. But as TikTok’s CEO, Shou Chew, has expressed on several occasions, should the app really be seen as Chinese? 

Is TikTok Actually Chinese?

TikTok has never been available in Chinese app stores except for a short stint in Hong Kong. Instead, the nation has its own equivalent, known as Douyin. 

A woman pictured making a short video for her social media account

Source: Freepik

Contrary to popular belief, the app was actually incorporated in California back in 2015, according to CNN

Questions of its Chinese Ownership

In 2023, U.S. lawmakers questioned CEO Chew about whether the app was Chinese.

TikTok CEO Shou Chew pictured in a suit during an event

Source: Wikimedia

While he was able to dodge directly answering the question, he pointed out that TikTok’s headquarters are located in Singapore and Los Angeles. 


TikTok Is Owned by Beijing-Based ByteDance

Chew has done his best to give the impression that the app isn’t really Chinese; it’s ultimately owned by a Beijing-based tech giant. 

An image of ByteDance’s headquarters in Beijing, China

Source: Wikimedia

After sifting through several layers of corporations, it became apparent that ByteDance owns TikTok, a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands and based in Beijing, China. 


Is TikTok’s Parent Company Chinese?

There’s no question as to whether TikTok’s parent company is Chinese. 

An image of Zhang Yiming taken outside of ByteDance headquarters

Source: @techbookybiz/X

The company was founded back in 2012 by Zhang Yiming and Llang Rubo in Beijing. 


ByteDance Based in Chinese Capital

Since its founding over a decade ago, ByteDance has been based in the Chinese capital.

Photograph of TikTok CEO Shou Chew during a meeting

Source: Wikimedia

While TikTok CEO Chew has tried to argue that the company ByteDance isn’t owned by the Chinese Communist Party, according to CNN, it is legally required to “establish an in-house Communist Party committee composed of employees who are party members.”


ByteDance Legally Forced to Obtain Data for CCP

Being based in China, ByteDance must follow the new intelligence laws implemented by the CCP in 2018. 

Chinese Communist Party pictured during a large gathering

Source: Wikimedia

These laws force organizations to cooperate and assist with national intelligence, meaning that ByteDance must legally gather intelligence for the Chinese government. 


Beijing May Attempt to Ban Sale of TikTok

According to CNN’s report, Beijing has the legal ability to prevent the sale of TikTok; back in 2023, a Commerce Ministry spokeswoman alluded to the idea that China would strongly oppose the sale of the app.

An image of the Beijing skyline during a clear day

Source: Wikimedia

According to Shu Yuting, selling TikTok would involve “exporting technology” and would require approval from the Chinese government. 


Will TikTok Go Through with Forced Sale?

As things stand, it’s difficult to surmise whether or not TikTok will go through with a forced sale.

An image of a TikTok sign pictured in the company’s LA office

Source: Life at TikTok/YouTube

However, it appears the Chinese government will be prepared to prevent the sale of the popular video-sharing app, forcing Americans to opt for an alternative in the future.