Trump’s Tiff With TikTok
Trump’s tiff with the popular Chinese video-sharing app TikTok is one of the more curious elements of his presidency thus far. He claims that the company is a threat to national security since it’s allegedly sending all of its users’ information to the Chinese government, which if true, could theoretically result in Beijing crunching the data using advanced algorithms to identify crucial socio-political trends that could in turn be used to help it hone its soft power messaging and perfect its related state policies towards the US. The author described the ability to do this as the “Holy Grail of Hybrid War” (HGHW) in his analysis about the US’ 2017 National Security Strategy that was published at Sputnik at the time under the title “National Security Strategy? More Like Infowar Strategy!” For the reader’s convenience, what follows is a relevant excerpt of the piece in order to introduce them to this game-changing concept:
The Holy Grail Of Hybrid War
“Russia is accused of “exploit[ing] marketing techniques to target individuals based upon their activities, interests, opinions, and values” in order to “disseminate misinformation and propaganda” (34), but there’s nothing stopping the US from doing this either, nor in crafting the Holy Grail of Hybrid War by “integrat[ing] information derived from personal and commercial sources with intelligence collection and data analytic capabilities based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning” (34) so as to fully maximize its outreach efficiency via algorithm-created infowar packages custom-tailored for each targeted demographic.
Just as Russia and China are accused of “us[ing] propaganda and other means to try to discredit democracy” (2), so too could the US do the same against their governing systems by “exploiting information, democratic media freedoms, and international institutions” (37) so as to undermine their legitimacy while championing its own values, principles, and de-facto state ideology (41). This could also have a tangible manifestation too by trumpeting the American economic model as “an alternative to (the) state-directed” one pioneered by China (38).
In wrapping up the review of the US’ National Security Strategy, all of the aforementioned citations and analytical arguments strongly suggest that America is poised to prioritize the waging of infowars all across the world as an integral component of the Trump Doctrine, essentially formalizing a decades-long trend but indicating that it will nowadays focus more on pursuing the Holy Grail of Hybrid War and countering China’s Silk Road designs. The US must restore domestic and international confidence in its economic model in order to protect its global position and indefinitely sustain the fading Unipolar World Order, which is why it’s so important for it to wield the weapon of infowars as the fastest and most effective instrument in attempting to do so. ”
The “Tech Security Dilemma”
The US has yet to publish any evidence supporting its suspicions that TikTok is functioning as China’s HGHW so it’s unclear whether the company really constitutes such a threat or not. Similarly, it can only be speculated whether America already has its own HGHW through the National Security Agency’s (NSA) vacuuming up of practically everything on the internet and the permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies’ (“deep state”) collaboration with Big Tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Considering that both superpowers are in the midst of a “tech race” which is already driving the US’ Hybrid War on Huawei, it can be concluded that a very serious “tech security dilemma” exists between them which is also responsible for Trump’s tiff with TikTok. Under such intensely competitive conditions, it’s to be expected that they’ll both act to preemptively neutralize their rival’s capabilities before they materialize, hence why China has blocked most American Big Tech companies while the US is seeking to ban Huawei and TikTok.
The key difference between these two approaches is that the Chinese one has already been long established and is consistent with its model of state management of the economy whereas the American one is very new and goes against its model’s reputation as a so-called “free economy”. Trump’s surrogates might argue that his predecessors irresponsibly allowed Chinese companies to do the same thing in America as their own country’s companies have always wanted to do in the People’s Republic, but the fact of the matter is that his ultimatum that Microsoft and ByteDance have until 15 September to work out a deal on TikTok’s US operations or the popular video-sharing app will be banned under national security pretexts amounts to strong-armed robbery. ByteDance is under immense pressure by the American government to sell an important part of its business on the cheap under threat of receiving no compensation whatsoever if it refuses. Not only that, but Trump also demanded that the “the United States should be reimbursed or should be paid a substantial amount of money, because without the United States [Microsoft] [doesn’t] have anything”.
Although not explicitly stated, Trump is espousing economic fascism, the most well-known manifestation of which is commonly described as “corporatism”. He’s ordering state intervention into the so-called “free economy” under national security pretexts so as to have a large American corporation take over a foreign company’s operations within his country’s territory. This is incredibly ironic since Trump claims to detest “big government”, yet he’s now weaponizing it in the realm of the digital economy as part of America’s Hybrid War on China in the larger contexts of the interconnected global competitions that the author describes as the New Cold War and World War C. He won’t ever admit it, but he seems to tacitly recognize that “free economies” cannot compete with state-managed ones, hence why America must “fight fire with fire” by having the American government intervene in economic affairs in a similar manner as the Chinese one does and for near-identical reasons related to preemptively countering its chief rival’s speculative HGHW capabilities.
A New Sanctions Model
Trump’s strong-armed robbery and economic fascism might prospectively be imposed upon the US’ vassals across its global “sphere of influence” in the coming future under the threat of sanctions if they fail to comply. Western companies are trailing far behind Chinese ones in the “tech race” and the only way to catch up is for their governments to follow in his footsteps by doing the same thing as he did under similar national security pretexts. If they don’t, then the US might claim that it cannot continue giving them the “security perks” and other forms of support (economic, diplomatic, etc.) that it’s provided for decades since it can’t have any other way of knowing whether every single member of their society (including their “deep states”) uninstalled so-called “intrusive” Chinese apps from their devices that could allegedly be exploited as “back doors” for improving Beijing’s HGHW capabilities.
The “Digital Curtain”
Just like the Old Cold War had the “Iron Curtain”, so too might the New Cold War have the “Digital Curtain” in the event that Trump’s strong-armed robbery and economic fascist policies spread across the world. Countries will be forced to choose between the American and Chinese “digital realms”, though some might still try to “balance” between them. Those that attempt to do this, however, will likely turn into Hybrid War hotspots since the US isn’t prone to “sharing” any “spheres of influence” with China and will thus do all that it can to establish full-spectrum dominance over such states that it already has a foothold in, whether by hook (“incentives”) or by crook (Color Revolutions hatched from socio-political insight obtained by the HGHW). In other words, the Unipolar (“New”) World Order isn’t giving way to multipolarity like many had previously predicted including the author himself, but to a New Bipolarity that could best be described as “Complex Bipolarity” given that there are still some multipolar trends within this emerging world order such as the possibility of a “Neo-NAM“.
Trump’s strong-armed robbery of TikTok’s US operations and resultant economic fascist plans to have a friendly corporation take over their business is a serious escalation of the “tech race”, the consequences of which will reverberate across the world if his country’s vassals are soon pressured to follow suit as well. This could in turn dramatically shape the course of the New Cold War, World War C, and the New Bipolarity in which this global competition is occurring. The world is being divided into American and Chinese “spheres of influence” along the geopolitical, commercial, digital, and other domains, with only a few states willing to take the risk of being caught in the middle by attempting to “balance” between them. If there’s one commonality between the two superpowers, however, it’s that they both recognize to different degrees that the so-called “free economy” can’t compete with state-managed ones, which suggests that capitalism in its theoretically pure sense is dead and that the future of the global economy will either be fascism/”corporatism” or socialism/communism.