WeChat to No Chat: How the Trump Administration’s Ban Would Affect the Future of Mobile Applications that Use Monetary Transfers

By: Zhuo Zhao

Communication in today’s day and age has been easier than it has ever been. Long distance phone calls and letters are no longer necessary with the creation of the internet and mobile applications. Now, communication is instant. WeChat, a mobile application owned by Tencent, is the primary means of communication to citizens in China and other Asian Countries.[1] WeChat is a multi-purpose mobile application that can send messages, post moments, send articles, shop, order in a restaurant, send money, and pay bills.[2] WeChat has been described as a “vital link for the Chinese diaspora to friends, family, and news from home,” but also is an “essential network for Chinese Americans to run businesses and engage in diaspora community life.”[3]

In 2020, the Department of Commerce believes that WeChat threatens our “national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the U.S.”[4] In order to safeguard the national security of the U.S., on August 6, 2020, the Department of Commerce declared prohibitions and limitations on certain access to these apps.[5] Specific prohibitions include: “any provision of service to distribute or maintain the WeChat [redacted] mobile applications, constituent code, or application updates through an online mobile application store in the U.S.” and “any provision of services through the WeChat mobile application for the purpose of transferring funds or processing payments within the U.S.”[6] While banning WeChat affects communication with family and friends worldwide, the ban also effectively stops all monetary transfers. The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai conducted a study and asked their members what effects this ban would have on their business “if it was applied to American companies and U.S. citizens in China”.[7] The study found that “40% of respondents predict a negative impact on their revenue, with over a third expecting a loss of global revenue.”[8]

While this ban is not official, it is being debated and currently going through the court system.[9] U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler issued a preliminary injunction which paused the ban of WeChat for failing to prove any national security concerns that the government claims.[10] The government has taken this case on appeal.[11] If the ban were to be declared, then “consumers in the U.S. cannot download or update the WeChat app, use it to send or receive money, and because U.S. support for the app by data hosting and content caching will be eliminated…”[12]

There are many similar applications that function in the same way that WeChat does.[13] Larger U.S. businesses, like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, are monopolies in the digital world and actively compete against WeChat.[14] But instead of allowing this competition, the U.S. government’s intent to ban WeChat would not only eliminate a big competitor, but it would likely be profitable to these U.S. businesses and the U.S. economy.[15] However, the government’s argument is not focused on decreasing competition, but falls under the guise of a ‘national security concern.’[16] If the courts find that WeChat is a national security concern, the government would have the ability to limit other applications with identical functions to WeChat under the veil of the same argument. Banning WeChat would effectively create a precedent for any future disputes on mobile applications that the government finds concerning. With this ban, individuals and businesses can be forced to lose their stakes in mobile applications with the same multi-functional purposes as WeChat, which result in numerous failing businesses and jobless employees.[17]


[1] Evelyn Cheng, Trump Ban on WeChat Would Hit Business Revenues, Survey Says, CNBC, (Aug. 26, 2020), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/26/trump-ban-on-wechat-would-hit-us-business-revenues-survey-says.html.

[2] Wang Zheng, What is WeChat and What Can it Do?, CGTN, (Aug. 9, 2020), https://newseu.cgtn.com/news/2020-08-09/What-is-WeChat-and-what-can-it-do–SNepY1rgNG/index.html#:~:text=What%20does%20WeChat%20do%3F&text=As%20an%20instant%20messaging%20app%2C%20the%20basic%20function%20of%20WeChat,as%20many%20as%20nine%20people.

[3] Why Trump’s Push to Ban WeChat Would be Hard on the Chinese Diaspora, The Conversation, (Oct. 18, 2020), https://thenextweb.com/syndication/2020/10/18/why-trumps-push-to-ban-wechat-would-be-hard-on-the-chinese-diaspora/.

[4] Wilbur Ross, Commerce Department Prohibits WeChat and TikTok Transactions to Protect the National Security of the United States, U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, https://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2020/09/commerce-department-prohibits-wechat-and-tiktok-transactions-protect.

[5] Id.  

[6] Id. 

[7] Cheng, supra note 1. 

[8] Id. 

[9] Mariella Moon, U.S. Judge Stands Firm in Decision to Block Ban on WeChat, Engadget, (Oct. 24, 2020), https://www.engadget.com/us-judge-stands-firm-block-us-ban-wechat-132927009.html.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] U.S. WeChat Users All. V. Trump, 2020 U.S. Dist. Lexis 172816*, *2. 

[13] Camila Barbeito, WeChat Has Been Officially Banned in the U.S. – Here are the Best Alternative Apps, Popsugar, (Sep. 20, 2020), https://www.popsugar.com/tech/wechat-alternatives-47805419 (listing different applications similar to WeChat like WhatsApp, Viber, Line, Kik, and Telegram).  

[14] See David Blair, Unfair Pressure on TikTok, WeChat to Harm US Consumers, China Daily, (Oct. 12, 2020), http://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202010/12/WS5f83b7a5a31024ad0ba7e03c.html. 

[15] Id. (finding that if banned, WeChat users would need to find an alternative platform that functions similarly). 

[16] See Ross supra note 4.

[17] See Bobby Allyn, U.S. to Bar Downloads of TikTok, WeChat, NPR, (Sep. 18, 2020), https://www.npr.org/2020/09/18/914322620/u-s-to-bar-downloads-of-tiktok-wechat.

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