TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi’s Senate grilling on China ties could ‘undermine’ US image: Singapore envoy


TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi testifies during a US congressional hearing in Washington on Ja. 31. Photo: AP

WASHINGTON: Weeks after Singaporeans were left fuming from an American lawmaker’s grilling of TikTok’s CEO over his nationality and links to China’s Communist Party, the island nation’s top envoy in Washington has suggested the line of questioning went too far and could tarnish perceptions of the US.

“Taken too far”, interrogation such as that experienced by Chew Shou Zi, a lifelong Singaporean, “can sometimes possibly undermine the image and understanding of how the US is viewed in different parts of the world, not just in Asia and not necessarily only in Singapore”, said Lui Tuck Yew, Singapore’s ambassador to the US.

Lui gave his thoughts in response to a question posed by the South China Morning Post at a conference of the Washington International Trade Association in the US capital on Tuesday (Feb 13).

On Jan 31, Chew appeared alongside the chief executives of tech firms Discord, Meta, Snap and X to testify before the US Senate Judiciary Committee over concerns about the harmful effects of social media on children.

During the hearing, Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, asked Chew if he was a citizen of “any other nation” than Singapore, had ever applied for Chinese citizenship and had any ties to China’s Communist Party.

Clips of the tense exchange went viral on social media, with the hashtag #Singaporean trending internationally on X, formerly known as Twitter. Many netizens of the city state and beyond were not impressed.

“Pure ignorance to the highest degree,” one comment read. “Just because he looks Chinese does not mean he’s from China.”

Chinese immigrants first came to Singapore in substantial numbers in the 19th century. Today more than 70 per cent of the country’s 5.9 million inhabitants are ethnically Chinese.

Lui on Tuesday said Singapore saw the highly charged encounter between Cotton and Chew from two angles.

First, American politicians were understood as trying to assure a domestic audience “in an election season”, he said.

And second, deep-seated concerns have persisted about companies “whether in China itself or coming out of China” possessing “a significant amount of data, possibly even sensitive data” relating to US citizens.

TikTok, a video-sharing app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is wildly popular in the US, with more than 150 million monthly active users.

After both Democratic and Republican lawmakers voiced apprehensions about users’ data on the app being accessed by the Chinese government in Beijing, the company in 2020 decided to move its headquarters to Singapore.

Lui called for striking a “fine balance” between security sensitivities and the “overall image and impression that the US will want to continue to project and portray to the rest of the world”.

Cotton has previously visited Singapore, the envoy added, saying the country held the Harvard-educated US military veteran in “high regard”. - SCMP

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