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To its 170 million American users, TikTok is a fun place to share parodies, pranks or the latest dance craze.

But in the U.S. Congress, many see the app as something more pernicious – to them, it’s a national security threat. Their concern is with TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance. Political hawks warn that, at least in theory, Chinese law could force ByteDance to give American users’ data to the Chinese government.

TikTok denies all this. But as Shaomin Li, an expert on China, its political economy and business, explains, the reality is a little more nuanced. It may well be the case that Beijing officials are not overtly pulling the strings at ByteDance, but the company itself will still be under obligations to the Chinese Communist Party, he explains.

“Regardless of whether ByteDance has formal ties with the party, there will be the tacit understanding that the management is working for two bosses: the investors of the company and, more importantly, their political overseers that represent the party,” Li writes. “But most importantly, when the interests of the two bosses conflict, the party trumps.”

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Matt Williams

Senior International Editor

Some U.S. lawmakers have grown concerned about TikTok. Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images.

Is TikTok’s parent company an agent of the Chinese state? In China Inc., it’s a little more complicated

Shaomin Li, Old Dominion University

In China, ‘private’ businesses aren’t entirely private and the ultimate boss is the CCP, not the CEO.

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