Feb 14, 2023 - Politics

The Virginia General Assembly is taking on China

Illustration of an anvil swaying back and forth above the tiktok app icon

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Gov. Glenn Youngkin's move to ban TikTok from state-owned computers and phones looks like it's about to become permanent.

What's happening: The General Assembly is embracing tough-on-China legislation that, in addition to the TikTok ban, also bars the Chinese government from buying farmland in Virginia.

Why it matters: The policies, all backed by Youngkin, caught lawmakers from both parties off guard when he first floated them in his State of the Commonwealth address last month.

  • Perhaps helped along by the well-timed appearance of an alleged spy balloon, the issue has become another unlikely area of bipartisan agreement in the otherwise deadlocked General Assembly.

Details: Youngkin issued an executive order banning TikTok from state-owned devices in December over data-security concerns. The legislation, versions of which have now passed both the House and the Senate, would make that permanent.

  • The ban on the Chinese government owning farmland would allow the state to invalidate property transfers to anyone acting as an agent of China or any other federally designated foreign adversaries, a list that also includes Iran, Cuba and Russia.

What they're saying: Lawmakers alternated between treating the issues as grave matters of national security and cracking jokes.

  • Sen. Richard Stuart (R-King George), who proposed the farmland bill, cited concern about China owning land near sensitive military installations and the possibility of U.S. enemies tainting food.
  • Meanwhile, one of his colleagues, Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Floyd), speculated China was using balloons in lieu of a real estate agent to identify potential land deals.
  • "Take some pictures. Make an offer — that's what the balloon was for," he told his colleagues on the Senate floor.

Reality check: It's not entirely clear what sparked concern surrounding the issue, but so far no one has come forward with any evidence China is rushing to buy up Virginia farmland.

What we're watching: On the social media front, it's unclear what impact the state's ban on TikTok, one of at least 25 nationwide, has had so far.

  • At least one agency, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, had an account, which it says it has since deleted.
  • A spokesperson, Andrew Cothern, tells Axios that it was working with influencers on the platform to "reach a new consumer audience," but has now shifted those marketing efforts to other social media platforms.

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