Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, one of the top China hawks in Congress who is leading the charge to restrict TikTok nationwide, warned Texas lawmakers not to discriminate against Chinese Americans and immigrants in their own statewide social media ban legislation.
Both McCaul and members of the Texas House introduced bills to curb perceived security threats by Chinese actors in the country via popular social media apps like TikTok, which is owned by a China-based company. McCaul’s bill, the DATA Act, would require the administration to determine whether TikTok or its Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, has ever transferred sensitive data to the Chinese government and to ban the app from the U.S. if so.
Meanwhile in the Texas Legislature, Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, introduced a bill that would blanket ban apps owned by companies headquartered in a number of countries, including China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Asian American groups decried the bill as too sweeping, asserting it would cut off many avenues for communication between immigrants and families back in China.
It’s a concern that appears to resonate with McCaul, who pressed members of the Legislature to keep their bills focused on national security concerns and not pass laws so broad that they unfairly impact Chinese Americans and other immigrants.
“I’ve urged the state Legislature to be targeted in their approach, not a swath that would catch people that are just fleeing oppression,” McCaul said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “It’s got to be very careful not to go too far with that and discriminate against, you know, people that are fleeing oppression versus those that are operating under espionage purposes.”
McCaul, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he held a similar sentiment toward state legislation targeting land ownership by Chinese nationals. Gov. Greg Abbott expressed support earlier this year for banning land sales to certain Chinese citizens, which Asian American groups said could contribute to discrimination in the housing market. McCaul said land purchases by Chinese government actors around military bases was a legitimate security concern, “but again, I would make it targeted towards CCP-owned-and-operated enterprises.”
The representative refrained from making any judgments on the state bills specifically while they are still going through the legislative process. Patterson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, emphatically denied any data sharing with Beijing during a blockbuster hearing with the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee last month. Chew said all data storage was in the process of being transferred to the U.S. in a plan dubbed “Project Texas” to keep it away from Chinese government interference. Efforts to ban TikTok also face resistance on First Amendment grounds and from small-business owners and influencers who say the app has given them opportunities otherwise out of their reach. The company has also engaged in an aggressive lobbying effort to keep its U.S. operations afloat.
“We have not provided U.S. user data to the CCP, nor would we if asked,” Chew wrote in a letter last year to Senate Republicans.
But Chew’s vows did little to instill confidence, with members on both sides of the aisle and the White House expressing concern with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, being subject to Chinese laws.
“If you look at the Chinese Communist Party, and just their history collecting data, even on their own citizens, people really need to be concerned,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, in an interview with the Tribune. “If this is going to be the predominant and most popular platform for our kids, we need to be concerned because I do think that the Chinese government would ultimately want to use it for nefarious reasons.”
McCaul expressed his concerns Tuesday after completing a bipartisan tour of East Asia to study the threat to U.S. allies by China. The visit included stopovers in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — principal democratic allies in the region.
The visit to Taiwan was particularly provocative to Beijing, which still views the island as an integral part of the People’s Republic of China. But McCaul said it was important to show support for Taiwan at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping is making his ambitions to retake the island clear.
McCaul said deterring Chinese incursion is “probably the biggest unifying factor in the Congress.” San Antonio’s U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation this congressional session shoring up relations with Southeast Asia in an apparent effort to counter Chinese influence in the region. It passed the House by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote last month.
Other areas McCaul said Congress should focus on include export controls to ensure Chinese “malign actors” don’t steal U.S. technology and continued funding for Ukraine in its war against Russia, which China views as a litmus test on the United States’ willingness to support Taiwan in the event of an invasion.
We can’t wait to welcome you Sept. 21-23 to the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.