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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden signed an executive order Wednesday on ensuring the security of American user data in regard to foreign-owned apps such as TikTok, revoking and replacing three Trump-era executive orders to impose a more structured "criteria-based decision framework" for potential bans.

Driving the news: It's the latest in a series of China-related steps Biden is taking ahead of his first overseas trip to Europe, where curtailing Beijing's abuses will be a top agenda item in meetings with G7 and NATO leaders.

Details: The EO replaces three previous Trump-era EOs and directs the Department of Commerce to "instead evaluate foreign adversary connected software applications" under new rules.

  • The EO outlines criteria for determining what foreign-connected apps may pose an "unacceptable risk" to U.S. national security.
  • These include transactions involving apps owned or controlled by "persons that support foreign adversary military or intelligence activities, involved in malicious cyber activities ... or collect sensitive data," according to a White House fact sheet.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is continuing to outline how its tough-on-China approach will differ from Trump's, implementing aggressive policies that officials say are more aligned with American values.

  • Trump's previous executive orders essentially sought to ban popular video-sharing app TikTok and messaging app WeChat from the U.S.
  • The bans were temporarily blocked in court because the national security concerns outlined by the Trump administration were too hypothetical or vague.

Between the lines: The Biden administration is seeking to develop a better process for identifying and documenting national security concerns so that potential bans on data transfers can withstand court challenges.

What they're saying: On a call with reporters, a senior administration official said the EO is meant to protect sensitive American data from collection and utilization by foreign adversaries, including China.

  • A review of the ownership structure of TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, remains ongoing at the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the official said, declining to share more details.
  • The EO is an important part of the administration's foreign policy strategy with China and part of its agenda to work with international partners, the official said.
  • The official said the White House wants to protect American user data while promoting principles of a free and open internet that safeguard human rights and the digital economy.

The bottom line: The Biden administration wants to be tough on China, but is doing so in its own way.

Go deeper

Sep 16, 2021 - World

Blinken, Austin call out China at event on Australia security pact

Blinken and Austin. Photo: Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin condemned China's "aggressive" and "destabilizing" behavior at a press conference Thursday, as they inaugurated a major new trilateral security partnership with Australia and the U.K.

Why it matters: China was not explicitly mentioned in President Biden's announcement of the AUKUS alliance, through which the U.S. and the U.K. will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a broader effort to ensure "peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific."

Sep 16, 2021 - World

U.S. raises ire of China and France with new global pact

President Biden at the White House during a virtual event Wednesday with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (L) and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

China's D.C. embassy said Thursday in response to a new security pact between the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia that the countries should "shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice," per the Australian Associated Press.

Why it matters: The AUKUS partnership is a warning to China's government as the Biden administration moves to counter Beijing in the Indo-Pacific. It's also raised the ire of the French government, after the countries revealed the U.S. and U.K. would help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

Biden blindsides Europe with new AUKUS alliance on China

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Biden is constructing and deepening new alliances to strengthen the U.S. position in its showdown with China, but he risks alienating longstanding allies in the process.

Why it matters: Biden heralded a new agreement to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines as part of a trilateral security pact with the U.K. and the U.S. as an "historic step" to update U.S. alliances to face new challenges. The message from French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was quite different.