The Chinese Communist Party is using a Democratic congressman from Wisconsin to argue that calls to ban TikTok in the United States are part of a racist "witch hunt."
After a bipartisan group of lawmakers during a Thursday hearing grilled TikTok CEO Shou Chew over the app's ties to the CCP, China's foreign ministry condemned the hearing in a press conference. Chinese propaganda outlet Global Times quickly highlighted the government's response in a story headlined, "China denounces US TikTok ban threat as 'xenophobic witch hunt,' firmly opposes possible forced sale." But the "xenophobic witch hunt" line did not come from China—the communist nation was actually quoting Wisconsin Democratic congressman Mark Pocan.
One day before the hearing, Pocan spoke at a "Keep TikTok" rally, which saw online content creators and liberal politicians voice their support for the Chinese app. During his speech, Pocan argued that banning TikTok "isn't the answer" and accused those in Congress who support a ban of conducting a "xenophobic witch hunt." It took just two days for the CCP to weaponize Pocan's remark, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning noting in her Friday press conference "that some U.S. lawmaker has said that to seek a TikTok ban is a 'xenophobic witch hunt.'"
Pocan's defense of TikTok came as the app, which is owned by China's ByteDance, mounted an aggressive effort to circumvent a ban. TikTok in early March tapped top Democratic public relations firm SKDK to provide "communications support," a move that likely bought the app a line to top liberals. Anita Dunn, an SKDK founding partner, is a senior adviser to President Joe Biden, and the firm's executive vice president, Justin Goodman, served as Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer's (D., N.Y.) communications director as recently as November. TikTok has also funneled large contributions to progressive organizations—it sent a combined $300,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus in December.
Pocan, who did not return a request for comment, is far from the only congressional Democrat to carry China's water on TikTok. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.) has also accused TikTok's opponents of racism, telling NBC News last week that "xenophobia around China" was behind the GOP's push to ban the app. "And so the idea that, 'Oh, TikTok is the boogeyman—it's just part of a political fearmongering that's happening," Bowman added. Just hours before the Democrat made those comments, a Wall Street Journal report showed that TikTok's data tracking technology was found within 30 state government websites across the United States.
Data from those sites, American intelligence officials have warned, could eventually end up in Beijing's hands. That's because China's national intelligence law requires Chinese companies to turn over data when asked and prohibits those companies from disclosing when they do so. TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing and maintains an internal CCP committee. Chew acknowledged Thursday that TikTok shares American user data with ByteDance but refused to say whether ByteDance could be forced to give data to Beijing.
"Under [People's Republic of China] law, all Chinese companies, including TikTok, whose parent company is based in Beijing, are ultimately required to do the bidding of Chinese intelligence services, should they be called upon to do so," Sens. John Thune (R., S.D.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.) said in a Thursday statement. "Nothing we heard from Mr. Chew today assuaged those concerns."