Corporate America Worries WeChat Ban Could Hit Business
U.S. companies whose fortunes are linked to China are pushing back against the Trump administration’s plans to restrict business transactions involving the WeChat app from Tencent Holdings Ltd., saying it could undermine their competitiveness in the world’s second-biggest economy.
More than a dozen major U.S. multinational companies raised concerns in a call with White House officials Tuesday about the potentially broad scope and impact of Mr. Trump’s executive order targeting WeChat, set to take effect late next month.
Apple Inc., Ford Motor Co., Walmart Inc. and Walt Disney Co. were among those participating in the call, according to people familiar with the situation.
“For those who don’t live in China, they don’t understand how vast the implications are if American companies aren’t allowed to use it,” said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council. “They are going to be held at a severe disadvantage to every competitor,” he added.
Other participants in the call Tuesday included Procter & Gamble Co., Intel Corp., MetLife Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, United Parcel Service Inc., Merck & Co. Inc. and Cargill Inc., according to the people.
The WeChat app is used by more than 1.2 billion people globally and is ubiquitous in China, where consumers, businesses and government alike use it for mobile payments, messaging, e-commerce, official communications and other functions. For anyone doing business in China, including U.S. companies, it is also a vital marketing hub to connect with consumers.
One aim of the call was to seek clarity on the precise meaning of the executive order signed by Mr. Trump last week, according to the people familiar with the matter. That order barred “any transaction that is related to WeChat” by Americans but left details of what is actually banned to the Commerce Department to be worked out.
Companies are hoping the administration will narrow the order as it is implemented over the coming weeks, according to the people familiar.
Even so, U.S. companies are concerned the administration’s action could effectively cut them off from access to the lucrative China market, for example by ending their ability to accept payments or advertise on WeChat.
Apple is among the U.S. companies with the most at stake. Being forced to remove the app from its devices could be devastating. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo at TF International Securities projected that global iPhone shipments could fall by as much as 30%, if such a ban goes into effect. Apple declined to comment.
Some U.S. entertainment and sports concerns, meanwhile, are worried they could be cut off from Tencent’s other digital services. The National Basketball Association, for example, has a deal with Tencent to stream its games in China. NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league is “awaiting further clarity on the executive order.”