Photo credit: SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng
Alex Zhu (朱骏 Zhū Jùn) is the head of TikTok, the first Chinese social media service to achieve real traction in the U.S. He wants desperately to maintain that traction as Washington turns up its scrutiny of TikTok’s parent company, the Chinese internet powerhouse Bytedance.
In an interview in New York, Zhu “denied, in unambiguous terms, several key accusations” about the operations of TikTok, the New York Times reports: “No, TikTok does not censor videos that displease China, he said. And no, it does not share user data with China, or even with its Beijing-based parent company.” And even if the Chinese leader Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 himself asked the company to censor or hand over data, Zhu said, “I would turn him down.”
Zhu might regret that promise: It’s simply not credible for a Chinese company that wants to survive in the People’s Republic to refuse a direct order from Xi, who must be obeyed. As one “former employee in TikTok’s Los Angeles office” told the Wall Street Journal (paywall): “We’re a Chinese company,” this person said. “We answer to China.”
Why is TikTok eager to talk to the press right now? Bytedance’s investors, including Sequoia Capital and SoftBank, view growth in the U.S. as key to achieving their goal of an initial public offering late next year.