Sound warnings against using the social media app TikTok, owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance, have been voiced since the Trump administration. Most recently, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has starkly warned about the dangers of the app.
Despite its protests to the contrary, TikTok is notorious for stealing user data, all of which may be accessed by Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In addition, as a tool of the CCP, there is concern that it will be involved in election interference in the 2024 U.S. elections.
Countries around the world are recognizing the danger and seeking to curb its malign influence. Nepal is the latest country to ban TikTok. On Nov. 13, Nepalese Foreign Minister Narayan Prakash Saud called the app a disruptor of “social harmony,” “goodwill,” and the “flow of indecent materials” in the announcement that it was immediately banned. That is a positive step forward.
As debates about TikTok demonstrate, however belatedly, Western countries are beginning to recognize the political and economic motivations of the CCP’s efforts to seize the “commanding heights” of technology by implementing some countermeasures, such as restricting Huawei and restricting technology transfers to China. They are also learning about how TikTok is a medium of political warfare.
The real danger of TikTok is its role in political warfare. It seeks to advance the influence of the Chinese regime and its interests in every country where TikTok is allowed.
The Chinese regime is aware of the importance of political warfare and its role in bringing communist parties to power through seemingly innocuous social movements or technology. The classic example in the history of communist movements is the soviet. “Soviets,” or workingmen’s associations, were created by the Tsar’s government after the 1905 Russian Revolution to advance workers’ rights. Soviets were workers’ councils that were autonomous and thus free from Tsarist influence to lead workers and organize strikes.
Soviets should not be thought of in the first instance as a component of the Soviet Union—that would come later. They were a mechanism created by Russian civil society. Soviets were seen as acceptable by the Tsar’s government and even perceived by the Russian government as a source of increasing Russian modernization and, thus, Russian progress. They were not perceived as a threat to the Tsar’s position. Soon, soviets existed throughout Russia.
But they quickly became radicalized by communists and socialists and employed against the Tsar. The first soviets were created in May 1905, and in 1917, were the vehicles the Bolsheviks used to man their October Revolution, control it as the Soviet structure existed throughout Russia, and serve as shock troops that executed and defended the revolution. In essence, they were the muscle of the October Revolution, instrumental in seizing the Tsar’s Winter Palace and telegraph and railway stations, spreading the revolution throughout Russia, and in its defense in the months afterward before the Red Army was effective. Hence, the lesson is that the government permits something that the communists turn against them.
The CCP, through TikTok and other popular apps, has done just this—created a modern soviet—to access the U.S. population and those around the world to spread its malign influence. An estimated 1.53 billion people have the app on their phones worldwide, with about 1 billion people using it monthly. As do many scores of millions within the United States, estimates are that about 75 million Americans use the app on a monthly basis. Many more have downloaded the app, and so are subjected not only to data theft, profiling, and tracking but also to the political warfare messages that the CCP advances.
The CCP has reached into American homes with direct access to millions of Americans who are having their opinions shaped by the CCP through its corporate cut-outs. That is as close a historical parallel as may be found to what the Bolsheviks and other communist and socialist parties accomplished in the wake of the 1905 Revolution. In this sense, TikTok is a soviet—a technological instrument that the U.S. government permits but a weapon to be employed against the American government and people.
Of course, a TikTok in another guise may be employed against the Chinese regime. Soviets provide a historical analogy to what must be created today in China, and TikTok yields a contemporary example of what might undermine the CCP. A similar movement or, more likely, movements, as many approaches would have pathways to success, may be created to provide the mechanism to exploit the cleavages the CCP’s own ideology and its rule have introduced to cause the CCP’s fall. This could be obtained even in the conditions of the CCP surveillance state. Finding the right “soviet” is critical. Broadly, a soviet would likely be social-cum-civilizational or technological—a technology that the CCP would welcome but that would, in fact, undermine it. This might be inspired by an app like TikTok or Temu or technologies to destroy the “Great Firewall” that would allow the Chinese regime to be undermined.
If the “soviet” to undermine the CCP is social-cum-civilizational, it might be a “Chinese Civilizational Association” to study, teach, and discuss the greatness of Chinese literature, civilization, political philosophy, political culture, and religion. Inevitably, the greatness of Chinese civilization would be contrasted with the world’s other major civilizations and with the contemporary governance of the current regime. This would not be a “TikTok in reverse,” but it would be closer to a “Confucian Institute in reverse” to undermine the CCP by demonstrating that it is illegitimate, alien, and incoherent. It is completely divorced from the greatest of China’s past and tradition.
The CCP’s efforts to undermine the West have had considerable success. At the same time, they illuminate how the enemies of the Chinese regime may employ similar political warfare tactics to undermine and overthrow the odious CCP.
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