The CEO of TikTok’s parent firm says Trump’s ‘real objective’ is to ban TikTok, not force a sale to Microsoft

Zhang Yiming, the founder and CEO of ByteDance. Visual China Group via Getty Images/Visual China Group via Getty Images
  • Zhang Yiming, the CEO of ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, sent a letter to employees on Tuesday as the firm fights for its future in the US.
  • He wrote that the Trump administration’s “real objective” was to ban TikTok in the US, not to force a sale to Microsoft.
  • President Donald Trump said on Monday that he gave Microsoft a deadline of September 15 to buy TikTok’s US business and that a substantial cut of any deal should go to the US Treasury.
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TikTok’s owner seems convinced the Trump administration is trying to kill the app rather than force a sale to a US company.

President Donald Trump said on Monday that he had given Microsoft permission to pursue acquisition talks with ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, to buy TikTok’s business in the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

Trump said he gave Microsoft a deadline of September 15 to conclude the talks, after which TikTok would be “out of business in the United States.” He also said a “substantial portion” of the cash from a deal should go to the US Treasury.

In a letter to employees on Tuesday, Zhang Yiming, the CEO of ByteDance, said that a forced sale of TikTok’s US business was “unreasonable” but that the company had no choice but to comply with US law, Bloomberg reported.

A sale to Microsoft “is not their goal, or even what they want,” Zhang wrote. “Their real objective is to achieve a comprehensive ban.”

Neither ByteDance nor TikTok was immediately available to comment to Business Insider on Bloomberg’s report.

Zhang had said in a memo to employees that the company was “working around the clock” to find a solution to its predicament,Bloomberg reported on Monday.

“The current geopolitical and public opinion environment is becoming more and more complex. We are facing great external pressure in some markets,” he wrote.

Zhang indicated in that memo that the company might push back on US demands for a sale.

“Even though we’ve repeatedly stressed that we’re a privately-run business, and despite our willingness to adopt even more technical solutions to allay their concerns, CFIUS still believes ByteDance has to sell the TikTok US operation,” he wrote, referring to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. “We do not agree with this decision.”

Trump has repeatedly suggested that he might ban TikTok.

In early July, he said in an interview that he was considering banning the app to punish China for the coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, after reports emerged that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok’s US business, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he was getting ready to ban the app. A ban never materialised, though Trump’s remarks reportedly threw a wrench into Microsoft’s negotiations with ByteDance.

On Sunday, Microsoft announced it was resuming talks about acquiring parts of TikTok’s business.

TikTok has become the subject of increasing criticism from US politicians because of its ownership by a Chinese company. Officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said that makes it a risk to privacy and national security.