For the global Chinese community, WeChat is more than a chat app: it is often the primary means of staying in touch with friends and family back home.
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“WeChat has become the ‘it’ tool for Chinese-speaking people, no matter where you are around the world,” one Shanghai resident told the BBC.
But WeChat has a less innocent side. It is seen a key instrument of China’s internal surveillance apparatus.
In an executive order, President Trump labelled WeChat a threat to US national security and accused it of gathering “vast swaths” of user data, threatening Americans’ personal and proprietary information.
WeChat’s owner, TenCent, has been ordered to sell the app by mid-September or face a ban on US operations.
The move to block WeChat, a prominent example of China’s tech innovation, is seen by many Chinese as an attack on their culture, its people and state. In response to President Trump, China’s foreign ministry has accused America of using national security as a cover to exert hegemony.
The Chinese diaspora in the US has been shocked by the move, and many people are worried – not just about keeping in touch with loved ones, but what this means for China-US relations.
Jennie, 21, is a student at the University of California, and learned about the order while browsing WeChat.
“At first I didn’t believe that it is true,” she told the BBC. “Then I just felt very angry.”
Jennie spends around four hours a day on WeChat, using it to contact people in the US and China. It is also a vital source of information and she spends a lot of time reading articles published on the public accounts of Chinese media, content creators and businesses.
On the anniversary day of Tiananmen Massacre, Jennie made a one-sentence post of commemoration. It was quickly removed, and her entire public account vanished.
She told the BBC she is “very worried” that WeChat will share her information with the Chinese government, but strongly opposes America blocking the app.
“It’d be similar to what China does – to censor,” said Jennie.
She used to publish on her own public account, until it was censored by WeChat two years ago.
Jennie believes that there should be alternative to manage threats posed by WeChat, other than banning it altogether.
“I wanted to study in the US because of its openness, but this move has burst my bubble.”
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