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Chief executive of TikTok, to testify before US Congress amid escalating distrust

Shou Chew, TikTok’s chief executive, will testify before Congress for the first time on Thursday, in an appearance that is expected to reflect US lawmakers’ growing mistrust of China’s ownership of the short-form video app.

The hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will give lawmakers a rare opportunity to ask Mr. Chew questions directly about TikTok’s relationship with its Chinese owner, ByteDance, as well as how the app treats sensitive U.S. user data and the risks they may pose to adolescents and children.

TikTok is working to secure its future in the United States, one of its biggest markets, where it says it has 150 million users and has become a culture-making machine. But lawmakers have questions about ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese government and whether it could put US TikTok user data in the hands of Beijing officials. US intelligence officials such as FBI Director Christopher A. Wray have also warned that the Chinese government could use TikTok’s algorithm for “influence operations”.

TikTok, which was initially hailed as China’s first global Internet success story, has come to represent a growing gap between the United States and China over technological leadership and national security. The app has become a battleground in the tech cold war between the two countries, with US threats to ban TikTok reminiscent of how China has long blocked many American platforms.

To continue operating in the United States under ByteDance ownership, TikTok has asked a group of federal agencies known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, to approve a plan called Project Texas. The plan outlines how TikTok will prevent the Chinese government from accessing user data in the US or interfering with content recommendations, under the supervision of government officials and third-party auditors.

The plan was not approved. Last week, it emerged that the Biden administration wants TikTok’s Chinese ownership to sell the app or face a possible ban.

China said on Thursday it would “strongly oppose” the forced sale of TikTok. A Commerce Department spokeswoman said at a news conference that such a sale would “seriously undermine the confidence of investors from various countries, including China, to invest in the United States.”

Amid the lack of resolution, more than two dozen US states, several colleges and Congress have banned TikTok in recent months. The White House also recently backed a bipartisan Senate bill that would give the administration more powers to deal with TikTok, including a potential ban.

During Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Chew, a native of Singapore who continues to live in the country, may also be asked about ByteDance’s surveillance of American journalists, which is being investigated by the Justice Department. The company admitted in December that employees of China-based ByteDance obtained sensitive data from American TikTok users, including reporters, to try to find the leak.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chew posted TikTok to the company’s main account, which has 69.2 million followers. He called the moment “pivotal” and said that TikTok may go away, but that it will be a testament to the app’s efforts to protect Americans. He asked users to share what they liked about TikTok in the comments. TikTok also flew dozens of creators to Washington after weeks of recruiting and held press conferences with them.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is chaired by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington.

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