Chinese social media giant TikTok has reportedly shelved plans to build a global headquarters in London amid growing concern about Beijing’s influence in Britain.
TikTok, a viral video app which is popular among teenagers, had been in discussions with the Department for International Trade and No 10 to establish a worldwide base in the capital.
The app, which has 800 million users, planned to invest as much as £3 billion on making the UK its home outside China and would have created around 3,000 jobs, sources claimed.
TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has now made the decision to suspend those negotiations due to the ‘wider geographical context,’ the Sunday Times reported.
The move comes amid increasing tensions between London and Beijing, stemming from the Government’s criticism of the Hong Kong security law and a recent decision to ban Huawei from Britain’s 5G network.
An unnamed source reportedly told the paper the plans could be revived should relations between China and the UK improve, however they added a decision would not be coming ‘any time soon’.
A statement from TikTok said: ‘We remain fully committed to investing in London and inspiring creativity and bringing joy to our users around the world.’
Meanwhile, a Government spokesperson added: ‘ByteDance’s decision on the location of their global HQ is a commercial decision for the company.
‘The UK is a fair and open market for investment where it supports UK growth and jobs.’
Elsewhere, Washington is considering placing TikTok’s Beijing-based owner ByteDance on its blacklist, effectively barring Americans from downloading and using the app.
White House officials are also weighing alternative plans, including allowing TikTok to continue operating as long as the company splits from its Chinese parent and sets up its headquarters in the US and not the UK.
Sources familiar with the matter last night said London was still being considered as an option for the HQ. However, they warned that the company would need to consider the impact of the US government’s plans and how it would affect the company’s operations.
Banning the app in the US, where it has almost 50 million users, would be a major blow to the company.
Tomorrow a fierce critic of the company, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, will arrive in London to meet Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to discuss issues including China and the coronavirus pandemic.
There is mounting speculation that he will use the opportunity to single out the firm as a tool of the Chinese state.
When asked on Fox News earlier this month whether US citizens should download TikTok, Mr Pompeo said: ‘Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.’
He also threatened to ban ByteDance by placing it on the US’s so-called ‘entity list’. Officials have said a decision could come within weeks.
London, Singapore and Dublin were among the locations being considered by TikTok, reports suggested in December. No US cities made the shortlist.
But now, TikTok may be forced to establish a major base in the US to salvage its business there.