Small business owners say WeChat ban will hurt Seattle, Eastside companies

VIDEO: Local impact of the TikTok, WeChat ban

SEATTLE — On orders from the president, Americans will be banned from downloading the wildly popular Chinese app TikTok because of national security concerns.

The ban also applies to the messaging and social media app WeChat, which is heavily used by Asian communities. Details of the order mean the app will also soon be essentially unusable in the United States.

But small businesses say the ban impacts not just families. Chinese-American business owners say WeChat is how they communicate with many of their clients – meaning the ban is going to take a major toll.

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“Horrible. Yeah, definitely the whole family uses it,” said Jennie Tran, who was in Seattle’s Chinatown International District on Friday.

“Especially being immigrant-American, that’s how they communicate,” said Richard Duong, who was also in the neighborhood Friday. “It’s going to be banned so I don’t know what they’re going to do now.”

Starting Sunday, Sept 20, WeChat will no longer be available on U.S. app stores.

The Department of Commerce will also block TikTok - a hugely popular app in the United States - over concerns the Chinese-owned platforms pose a national security threat.

“We have to have the total security from China. We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize security,” said President Donald Trump in a White House briefing Friday.

The ban also says U.S. businesses cannot host data for the apps, essentially making them unusable, because it bars U.S.-based internet service providers from interacting with the apps. It also bars American companies from processing transactions for WeChat.

“Initially when I heard this, I thought this will be never put in action,” said Shelly Hu, CEO of Globenex Realty in Bellevue.

“I have over 3,000 clients in China in my WeChat. Those clients, if shut down – I just lose those,” she said. That’s about 30 percent of her business.

Because the Chinese government blocks U.S.-based chat apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, and even Gmail, Hu says it leaves little option for communicating with Chinese investors or those looking to buy a home here.

“You cannot just cut the cord, it’s hard. It’s so sudden,” Hu said.

She said the change will impact many Chinese-American and other Asian-owned businesses, from those in the restaurant industry to import-export.

Like many immigrants, much of her family is still overseas.

“My husband, his mom 90 years old in Harbin right now,” Hu said. They regularly video chat but now, it seems that connection will be cut.

“It really gives hardship to people,” she said.

Companies are in talks to buy TikTok’s U.S. assets and that app will stay usable until Nov. 12 to allow more time for negotiations. However, WeChat’s ban is set to take full effect Monday.

It’s not clear if the app will stop working or exactly how U.S. companies that provide internet services for the app will comply.