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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Donald Trump has one day left in the White House. TikTok has a lot longer left in the app stores, despite still being owned by China's ByteDance.

Why it matters: Trump's failure to force divestiture or eviction was more than just a blunder, or source of schadenfreude for the TikTok users who bedeviled his reelection campaign's event planners. It was part of a "talk loudly and carry a small stick" economic policy toward China that Joe Biden will inherit.

State of play: ByteDance is still engaged with CFIUS, but negotiations have been pushed to the back burner by political considerations in both the U.S. (election aftermath) and China (Jack Ma and all his situation represents).

  • Oracle and Walmart remain committed to their September 2020 deal, which was briefly lauded by Trump, but don't really have a role in the CFIUS discussions.
  • TikTok continues to be atop or nearly atop the app stores, and has not yet removed the "interim" title from CEO Vanessa Pappas.

What now: Biden has occasionally talked tough on China, including when it comes to data security, but his specific policy prescriptions are so few as to fit into a TikTok video.

  • Will he maintain or cancel Trump’s executive orders related to ByteDance, not to mention EO’s that cover other Chinese tech companies like Alipay and WeChat? Or the blacklisting of Xiaomi. Dunno.
  • What about the corresponding Commerce Department prohibitions? Dunno.
  • Will new tariffs be proposed? Or will Biden just try to get concessions from China — including on tech issues — by offering to remove tariffs introduced in Trump’s “Phase 1” deal that never got to a second phase? Dunno.
  • Meanwhile, there is bipartisan D.C. consensus on the threats posted by Chinese companies like ByteDance (whether justified or not).

The bottom line: Biden's decisions related to TikTok could give us the earliest window into his China strategy, including what he does about a looming Feb. 18 court deadline over Trump's executive order. But there isn't any trail of breadcrumbs to follow, which means things will be as unsettled tomorrow night as they are tomorrow morning.

Go deeper

App rush: Talent over trash

Data: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Amid the sea of pollution on social media, another class of apps is soaring in popularity: The creators are paid, putting a premium on talent instead of just noise.

The big picture: Creator-economy platforms like Patreon, Substack and OnlyFans are built around content makers who are paid. It's a contrast to platforms like Facebook that are mostly powered by everyday users’ unpaid posts and interactions.

Alabama trying to use COVID relief funds to expand prisons

Inside the Julia Tutwiler Correctional Facility in Wetumpka, Alabama in 2018. Photo: Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

Alabama state lawmakers are trying to funnel up to $400 million of the state's American Rescue Plan funds to pay for a $1.3 billion plan to build and renovate prisons across the state, the Associated Press reports.

Why it matters: Diverting dollars from the COVID-relief package, passed in March, is prompting criticism over misuse.

51 mins ago - World

Jake Sullivan discussed human rights and Yemen with Saudi crown prince

MBS in 2018. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed efforts to end the war in Yemen, the de-escalation of regional tensions with Iran, and Saudi Arabia's human rights record in their meeting on Monday, a senior U.S. official told Axios.

Why it matters: This was Sullivan's first trip to the Middle East since taking up his post in January, and he was the most senior visitor to the kingdom so far from the Biden administration, which has kept the crown prince at arm's length over his roles in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen.