If National Security Is the Goal, Then Leaving TikTok Alone Is the Answer

Does Chris Kempczinski want the U.S. to go war with China? It’s easy to answer for the McDonald’s CEO that he hopes for peaceful relations now, and well into the future. That is so because McDonald’s presently has 5,500 stores in China, with plans to nearly double its store count over the next several years.

The simple, blindingly obvious truth is that the more that American businesses of all kinds enter China, and prosper there, the safer the country is from war with the United States. Call the ubiquity of American businesses throughout China, and the voracious appetite of Chinese consumers for all things American, a peaceful shield of sorts that make a U.S. invasion of the mainland highly unlikely. In other words, the U.S. could only invade China insofar as the U.S. economy and its stock markets would take hits that would make the 1929 stock-market crash and the 1930s economic sluggishness seem exuberant by comparison. War is seriously bad for business.

It’s something to keep in mind as U.S. politicians, including most notably Rep. Mike Gallagher, claim that the forced sale of TikTok by the U.S. political class amounts to a “common sense” national security move. Quite the opposite, actually.

In Gallagher’s defense, it’s not just politicians who are calling for the theft of TikTok with “national security” top of mind. New York Times columnist David French, though disdainful of Donald Trump for years and years, is channeling Trump with his bankrupt assertion that the taking of freedom and TikTok by politicians “is exactly what a nation should do when it’s getting serious about the national security threat posed by the People’s Republic of China.”

Add fellow Times columnist and Trump-hater Bret Stephens to this odd mob of anti-authoritarian China types eager to adapt Chinese tactics with the expropriation of TikTok. As Stephens sees it, an “app” threatens our national security. Stephens wants a political class that includes Trump to decide for us what media we can patronize, or in his words, “There are plenty of vehicles for expression that don’t rely on proprietary algorithms ultimately controlled by authoritarians…” In which case, Stephens is ok if American politicians yet again act like authoritarian Chinese and expropriate TikTok. How awful for our national security. Think about it.

Stephens notes that TikTok can lay claim to 170 million American users, which is the point. Or should be. Since so much of TikTok’s value is rooted in its massive popularity stateside (a hint to Stephens, French and Gallagher that it’s not run by the CCP, no?), a calmer Stephens (along with French and Gallagher) would recognize that a thriving, ByteDance-owned TikTok is walking, talking “national security” for the U.S. precisely because any Chinese invasion of the United States would be so damaging not just to TikTok, but to the vast majority of China’s most prosperous companies.

Such is the beauty of open, or at least mostly open lanes of trade. The people within countries start to develop a rooting interest in the health and economic wellbeing of the people in other countries. While it’s not a foolproof barrier to war, it’s arguably the best barrier to armed conflict that we have.

Which is why 19th and 20th century classical liberals were so passionately in favor of free trade. 19th century liberal Richard Cobden developed a worldwide following for his deep and correct belief that free trade and peace “are one and the same cause.”  Applied to Stephens’s assertion that allegedly wise American politicians can choose for us the proper “vehicles for expression,” no thanks. Not only is authoritarian government a distasteful notion regardless of the ethnicity of those pursuing it, autarky of any kind dangerously reduces the cost of war. In other words, the taking of TikTok that Stephens, French and Gallagher are calling for is most definitely a national security threat. And it is a taking. For anyone, including the aforementioned, to suggest that TikTok could fetch anywhere close to its market price with a 180-day sale demand that limits buyers to individuals in the U.S. amounts to willful blindness.

Worse, such a scenario yet again is a national security risk. What limits the economic interconnection of people always is.

Republished from RealClear Markets

Author

  • John Tamny

    John Tamny is a popular speaker and author in the U.S. and around the world. His speech topics include "Government Barriers to Economic Growth," "Why Washington and Wall Street are Better Off Living Apart," and more.

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