Morning Brief

Will Trump Approve Oracle’s Bid to Purchase TikTok?

As Trump’s ban on TikTok looms, a deal is on the table that would see China’s ByteDance retain majority ownership in the app.

This photo illustration taken shows the logo of the social network app TikTok and a U.S. flag on the screens of two laptops.
This photo illustration taken on Sep. 14 shows the logo of the social network app TikTok and a U.S. flag on the screens of two laptops in Beijing, China. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S.-China tech war over TikTok comes to a head, Russia is building up its troop presence near the Chinese border as anti-government protests continue, and militia attacks kill dozens across Ethiopia.

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White House Considering Oracle ByteDance Deal

Oracle and the Chinese company ByteDance have tentatively agreed to terms with the U.S. Treasury Department in the former’s bid to purchase the U.S. operations of the popular video-sharing app TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance. Earlier this week, Oracle and ByteDance agreed to a “technical partnership” which would keep ByteDance as the majority owner of TikTok, but would give Oracle a minority stake as well as control over user data and the power to review TikTok’s code for security.

Under the U.S. Treasury’s revised terms, TikTok’s board of directors would have to consist solely of U.S. citizens and would also include a national security committee that would work with the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment to deal with any security concerns. Walmart, which had previously expressed interest in purchasing the app through its partnership with Microsoft, said it was still interested in investing in the company.

Security concerns. In August, U.S. President Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders banning the Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat over national security concerns. The U.S. government and some U.S. politicians have warned about the danger posed by TikTok, and several cybersecurity experts said it could pose a risk if ByteDance chose to share the data it collects with the Chinese government. The ban on TikTok is due to go into effect on Sept. 20.

Will Trump approve? White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, who has some influence over Trump’s decision making, has not commented on the new terms, although he previously expressed strong approval for Oracle’s bid to buy TikTok. The deal ultimately needs to be approved by Trump. On Wednesday, the U.S. president said that he wasn’t happy about the reports he was hearing regarding the proposed partnership and that he would prefer to see a deal that did not leave ByteDance as a majority owner, which the current terms allow.

What We’re Following Today 

Lebanon delays government talks. Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib said he will hold more talks with political leaders over forming a new government, after failing to meet a Sept. 15 deadline. The inability so far to form a government is rooted in demands by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to appoint Shiite leaders to key ministerial posts, including the finance minister.

Facing mass anti-government protests in the wake of last month’s explosions in Beirut, the Lebanese government collapsed after it was revealed that official negligence was partly responsible for the intensity of the blast.

Russia boosts its military presence near Chinese border. Russia is bolstering its troop presence in the country’s east in response to growing geopolitical threats in the region, though the Kremlin did not say what those threats are. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that 500 units of new, advanced equipment were being sent to the region, but he did not specify the destination.

The moves are likely a response to China’s growing assertiveness, though some parts of the region have been gripped by protests against the government of President Vladimir Putin in recent weeks. In July, people took to the streets in the city of Khabarovsk, which lies along the border with China, after the arrest of the region’s hugely popular governor, Sergei Furgal, who beat out Putin’s favored candidate in an election in September 2018.

Belarus sanctions in doubt. Twin crises in Europe are colliding as Cyprus has threatened to veto an attempt by the European Union to slap sanctions on Belarusian individuals involved in last month’s election fraud due to the bloc’s refusal to implement similar measures against Turkey over its involvement in the ongoing eastern Mediterranean crisis.

EU officials have come under heavy pressure to impose sanctions on Belarus. Last month, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia preempted the European Union by slapping sanctions of their own on Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. EU foreign ministers are due to meet on Monday, but efforts to pressure Lukashenko and his allies will likely be delayed.

Keep an Eye On 

Violence in Ethiopia. More than 30 people were killed in militia attacks in western Ethiopia last week, officials said on Thursday, underscoring the country’s worsening security situation and creating new problems for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The attackers are “groups aimed at overturning the reforms journey,” Abiy said in a tweet.

Abiy entered government promising sweeping reforms of the country’s political system, but his efforts have since faced criticism from opponents and former allies. Last week, the country’s Tigray region held parliamentary elections despite the national government’s decision to postpone the vote over coronavirus concerns. The region is home to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the country’s dominant political force before Abiy’s takeover in 2019.

Crowd control in Washington. U.S. federal officials reportedly sought a “heat ray” device to deal with protesters around the White House in June before using tear gas to forcibly remove them from the area to allow Trump to take pictures for a campaign ad outside a local church. The device, which was developed by the U.S. military almost two decades ago, emits a burst of energy that causes an intense heating sensation in its victims. It is designed for use as a form of crowd control. 

The protests were part of a nationwide outburst of anger over the police killing of George Floyd in May. 

Odds and Ends

As sports leagues around the world take precautionary measures to protect players from the spread of the coronavirus, some teams have no choice but to play—sometimes with disastrous outcomes on the field.

On Sunday, a lower-division German soccer team, SG Ripdorf/Molzen II, lost to a rival by a whopping score of 37-0, after only seven players agreed to take the field due to the other team having come into contact with a player who tested positive for coronavirus in a previous game. “When the game kicked off, one of our players passed the ball to the opponent and our team walked to the sidelines,” a Ripdorf team representative said.

The game had already been scheduled, so Ripdorf would have been fined 200 euros if it cancelled, forcing it to “play” anyway. Although its opponent, Holdenstedt, opted not to field its first team, it still felt the game was worth playing. “Holdenstedt showed no mercy and scored a goal nearly every two minutes, while their opponents watched on from a safe distance,” the Guardian reported.

That’s it for today. 

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Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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