What? No more WeChat?

WeChat, the incredible messaging app that does so much more than simply enable people to stay in touch, is the latest to be caught in the cross-fire between the US and China. For domestic users in mainland China, WeChat functionalities include being able to transfer money for goods & services through WeChatPay, play games, order a cab, send video content, attach files, access online gaming, book appointments & create friend groups, ensuring that this is the app that more than one billion people have installed on their phones. Many of these functionalities are also available to overseas users. WeChat, cleverly, is also a platform that allows apps to be downloaded within its App without needing to exit WeChat. This is analogous to having all the product offerings of a supermarket in one place rather than having to go to all the individual, independent shops to run your errands and manage daily life. The app, owned by TenCent, whose tech founder, Pony Ma, has been ranked China’s richest person several times by the Hurun Rich List, is a vital means of business communication, too, and the preferred medium of the majority of Chinese professionals rather than email and telephone.


Interestingly, WhatsApp is the first app to have been singled out by the V&A Museum for its permanent collection. How you ‘collect’ digital technology is an interesting concept but the power of its capabilities meant that, for the V&A, it was akin to being “the Swiss Army Knife of apps” and deserved to be documented, recorded and preserved for the future.

I asked a few people in our network what they thought about this move. “I can’t imagine my life without WeChat. The same for those Chinese living in US,” says Zhang Lijia. “Other apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp & Twitter are banned in China, though you can use if when applying VPN. Banning this super app is like burning a bridge between China and US. In the post Covid world, people from different parts of the world need to unite themselves to face a challenging time. We need to build more bridges not to destroy an important one. Banning WeChat has the opposite effect. Banning it on the ground of ‘national security’ is just nonsense. All political.”

The banning of WhatsApp and Facebook in China may, to some extent, be the cause of WeChat’s early success and massive market reach. Its functionalities are broader and more sophisticated, than its American counterparts. What WeChat has enabled to date, is to be a bridge between the diaspora overseas and family and colleagues back home on the Chinese mainland, because it can be downloaded and used in both countries. If WeChat is banned then hundreds of thousands of overseas students, immigrants and expats in the US will find it much harder – and more expensive – to keep in touch with home. It might also result in those overseas students and immigrants feeling less welcome in their host country.

I am an avid user of WeChat. Its functionality is impressive and the ability to communicate with a group of people all at once, such as our summer camp parents, and to have the ability to quickly share video content and documents, has been fantastic. I have little doubt that a ban will impact many in our Chopsticks Club network, as we are a very international group of people.

Commercially banning WeChat in the US would put Apple in a uniquely difficult position. If Apple is forced to remove WeChat from the App Store — as it likely will be — consumers in China are going to stop buying iPhones as an iPhone without WeChat would be even less useful in China than a Huawei phone without Google is in the West.

If WeChat is all about communication and uniting people, this potential ban called for by President Trump, could result in limiting connectivity for international businesses, families and clients. It certainly signals a further hotting up of tensions between China and the US but its impact will be much more widely felt. Keeping channels of communication open has never been more important than now.

And then there is the question over TikTok…

Author: H-J Colston

Date: 14 August 2020