SAN FRANCISCO — On most days, companies like ByteDance, Microsoft, Walmart and Oracle are considered kings within their fields. But over the weekend, it became increasingly clear that they can also be something else: a set of pawns.
The industry titans have been caught in an escalating tit-for-tat between the United States and China over the sale of the U.S. operations of TikTok, the viral social media app owned by the Chinese internet company ByteDance. The sale was ordered in early August by President Trump, who said TikTok posed a national security threat because of its Chinese ties.
For weeks, China was critical of Mr. Trump’s order but stayed quiet on what it would do about it. That allowed ByteDance and TikTok to pursue sale talks with potential bidders like Microsoft, Walmart, Oracle and others. Then over the weekend, Beijing threw the whole process for a loop when it updated its export control rules to include some of TikTok’s key technologies — a sign that the Chinese government could exert its authority to delay or scuttle any deal at the last minute.
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