Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) engaged in a bit of McCarthyism during Wednesday’s Senate hearing on online child safety when he relentlessly pressed TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew on his ties to China, going so far as to wonder whether the Singapore citizen was “a member of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Wednesday’s intense hearing, which featured the heads of five Big Tech companies, was largely centered on the potential risks social media products pose to young people. At one point, amid a bipartisan barrage of criticism and cajoling from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg even stood up and apologized to families in the hearing room for the suffering they’d gone through.
While all of the social media chief executives at the hearing were put through the wringer, several GOP lawmakers grilled Chew on his company’s connection to China and how much access and influence the Chinese government has to the platform. Cotton, however, took it even further than his Republican colleagues.
Saying it was a “hell of a coincidence” that Chew was appointed CEO of TikTok shortly after the Chinese Communist Party’s investment fund bought a stake in the site’s parent company ByteDance, Cotton noted that Chew had previously worked for Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi.
After Chew acknowledged that he lived in Beijing during his time as Xiaomi’s chief financial officer, the Arkansas senator asked him if he was aware that the company was sanctioned by the Trump administration in January 2021 for being linked to China’s military. Expressing confusion over the line of questioning, Chew noted that the ban was blocked by the courts and soon removed by the U.S. government.
“It was the Biden administration that reversed the sanctions which like, by the way, they reversed the terrorist designation on Houthis in Yemen,” an indignant Cotton retorted. “How is that working out for them? But it was sanctioned as a Chinese Communist military country. You said today, as you often say, that you live in Singapore. Of what nation are you a citizen?”
Responding that he was a citizen of Singapore, Chew was then asked if he was a citizen of any other country. After the TikTok chief said no, Cotton wondered if he’d ever applied for Chinese citizenship.
“Senator, I served my nation in Singapore,” Chew replied. “No, I did not.”
Cotton went on to ask Chew, outside of his Singaporean passport, whether he had any other passports from any other nations. Once the social media executive said no, Cotton then pointed out that Chew’s wife and children are American citizens.
“Have you ever applied for American citizenship?” Cotton asked, leading Chew to acknowledge that he hadn’t yet.
“Have you ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party?” Cotton followed up, eerily echoing Joe McCarthy.
“Senator, I’m Singaporean! No,” a perplexed Chew reacted, prompting the GOP lawmaker to ask: “Have you ever been associated or affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party?”
Chew, again, responded that he had no association with the CCP. Cotton, meanwhile, peppered the TikTok head with a series of questions over his feelings about China and its government’s actions. Specifically, he wondered if Chew agreed that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is a dictator, that China’s treatment of the Uighurs is akin to genocide, and if he thought Tiananmen Square was merely a “massive protest.”
With Chew saying he “wasn’t going to comment on any world leaders,” Cotton then suggested that he was afraid to criticize China over fears that the government would kill him.
“Why won’t you answer these very basic questions? Are you scared? Are you scared that you’ll lose your job if you say anything negative about the Chinese Communist Party?” Cotton declared.
“I disagree with that. You’ll find content critical of China on our platform,” an exasperated Chew pushed back.
“Are you scared you’ll be arrested and disappeared the next time you go to mainland China?” the senator replied, prompting Chew to reiterate that anti-China content is prevalent on TikTok.