TikTok Bans: ‘Not Possible’ for Japan to Outlaw China-Linked App – Except ‘Quietly’ on Official Devices
The Japanese government is under increasing pressure to broaden a ban on social networking services such as TikTok if there is evidence of such apps being used to influence public attitudes and promote disinformation.
A group of politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party indicated this week that they plan to put forward a proposal in the coming weeks for the government to tighten regulations on apps that could mine data on users, damage national security or impact the nation’s economy.
Party member Norihiro Nakayama said that the new regulations “will help keep app operators in check” if a system “has been intentionally used by a certain party or a certain country for their influence operations with malice”.
In that event, he said the government should have the power to halt the service.
But analysts said the government did not “have the legislative power to go that far”, and that Japan was likely to avoid antagonising Beijing more than was absolutely necessary, given already poor relations with China and the vast amount of bilateral trade that could be at risk.
“Japan is taking similar steps to other countries in the G7 by banning these apps from official computers and phones,” said Stephen Nagy, an international-relations professor at Tokyo’s International Christian University.
“There are the same concerns for other Chinese technologies, which are now being closely scrutinised and banned from being used in national or local government and critical infrastructure,” he said.
“But I don’t think the government can ban the public from using TikTok or other similar apps.”
Japan already bans TikTok on government computers, tablets and mobile phones that handle confidential information.
Analysts anticipate that internal regulations at ministries and government agencies will be stepped up, to warn of the potential dangers of TikTok and other similar technologies. But they said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was unlikely to expand that to a blanket ban that also covered the general public.
However, Nagy said Japan had cause for concern after China passed legislation in 2017 requiring private companies and individuals to hand over data at the request of the government.
“The TikTok CEO can tell [US lawmakers] that the company does not provide its data to the Chinese government and that might be true, but it is unlikely that he would be able to say no if the government did make that demand,” Nagy said.
Calls in Japan for apps to be more closely monitored for malign influences echo similar demands in other countries, with politicians in the US recently grilling TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi by Congress over the motivations of a company that many insist is likely to share data and intelligence with the Chinese government.
Chew denied that accusation in the hearing, yet the US is expected to press ahead with legislation to address national security concerns surrounding the app.
TikTok is owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance and has around 17 million users in Japan.
Akitoshi Miyashita, an international-relations professor at Tokyo International University, said the Japanese government was in a difficult position.
“I think they will follow the policies of the US and European countries and enforce the ban on TikTok on government equipment, but they will do that quietly as they do not want to provoke a response from the Chinese government,” he said.
“So far, there have been no public statements on government employees using TikTok and I think they will continue to have that as a quiet policy.”
It was “not possible” for Japan to ban the public from using TikTok, as freedom of speech and of the media were protected under the constitution and there would be an outcry in the media if a ban were imposed, Miyashita added.
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